Wing Commander Vikas Jetly, a top Indian Air Force stunt pilot who had been in a coma for four years, died on Tuesday at a hospital on the outskirts of Delhi. The 42-year-old pilot performed stunts for the air force's Sarang helicopter display team.
His world shrank to a hospital bed after the Dhruv helicopter he was flying crashed near Bangalore on February 2, 2007. Sarang's breathtaking maneouvres include high-speed reverse take-off and criss-crosses at low altitudes.
Jetly is survived by his wife Shalini, 40, and two children, Sukrit, 12, and Tanisha, 8.
"His suffering has ended. Vikas would have tears in his eyes when the children spoke to him. He would lie motionless and respond with long sighs. Perhaps, it was his way of communicating," says Shalini Jetly.
Death has cut short the pilot's agony but the family faces a tough road ahead. Shalini has been struggling to get a job at the Air Force School, Subroto Park on compassionate grounds, but the IAF remains unmoved.
A wreath was laid on Jetly's body on behalf of IAF chief Air Chief Marshal PV Naik on Wednesday, but the air force will have to rise above token gestures to help Shalini pick up the threads of her life again.
While Shalini admits that had it not been for abundant support from the air force —especially Jetly's 151 Helicopter Unit --- her life would have crumbled a long time ago, she says a job at the TAFS will keep her IAF connection alive and help her make a fresh start.
She says, "I hope the IAF's sympathies don't end with the wreath. Nothing can compensate our loss, but a school job is the best gift they can give me."
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd appointed her as an assistant administrative officer on compassionate grounds after Jetly slipped into a coma. The job, however, leaves her with little time for the children. Fate has not been kind to Shalini, but the IAF can definitely do its bit to take the edge off that blow.