As a kid growing up in a boarding school, Flight Lieutenant Varun Kumar would often dream of flying planes. The 24-year-old died living his cherished dream when the air force’s Antonov-32 aircraft he was co-piloting vanished in the snow-capped mountains of Arunachal Pradesh on Tuesday.
The wreckage of the IAF plane that went down with 13 personnel was spotted by a search team at over 12,000 ft in the far-flung West Siang district, 24 hours after it crashed. The team reached the crash site after an arduous five-hour trek.
The IAF’s An-32s and Mi-17 helicopters abandoned search due to inclement weather.
There were no survivors. Wing Commander G S Butalia was flying the Soviet-origin transport aircraft. Wing Commander P K Shaji, Squadron Leader P Siddharth, Squadron Leader Manas Mishra, two aircrew and six army troops were also killed.
The only child of his parents, Varun had rung up his mother in Jind, Haryana, a night before the crash to say that he was missing her. He wanted his parents to take the first flight to Jorhat in Assam, his base.
For Varun, his family mattered the most. “He had recently surprised his parents when he bought a Hyundai Verna for them while he took their old Maruti Alto to Jorhat,” said his uncle Shamsher Singh Ahlawat.
Varun celebrated his last birthday on May 24. He had chosen a girl for himself and called up his parents a day before the crash, seeking their approval. His parents had no objection.
A passionate aviator, Varun quit engineering college to join the National Defence Academy at Khadakvasla near Pune. Varun was being groomed to become a fighter pilot, but “he gave in to his family’s wishes for a safer career as a transport pilot”, his uncle Jagdeep Singh said from Jind.
But death strikes at will.
Never the one to let family down, Varun had in February timed his flight duty to be in Delhi for his cousin’s birthday. Before he took off from Jorhat, he called his cousin, asking her to bake his special cake, which he would carry back for his air force colleagues.
“He forgot to carry the cake along. He promised he would be back soon,” his cousin Torul Singh said.
It’s not just the pilots who will miss him in the skies, his squadron’s basketball team will also have to do without their star player.