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Aiming low

india Updated: May 10, 2007 02:00 IST

The incident that will be foremost in my mind when I attend the function at Air Force Station Agra when the Canberra aircraft will be ceremoniously phased out on Friday, May 11, relates to the 1971 war. On the second day of the war, I was rostered to fly a bombing mission to a heavily defended Pakistani airfield. We flew by night at very low heights. Soon after crossing the border, we picked up radar signals indicating that we were being pursued. Luckily, it turned out to be a false alarm.

We reached the target and disgorged eight 1,000-pound bombs through the barrage of anti-aircraft shells. All we could see was the runway in the flashes of explosions. Our prime concern now was to shake off the interceptor aircraft lurking in the vicinity. We used every ounce of the jet energy to make a quick exit. The airfield where we intended to land was under attack forcing us to divert to Hindon. We landed there with the fuel warning light blinking, not knowing when the engines would quit. We barely spotted the dimly-lit runway and touched down. It was exhilarating.

We filled our tanks and headed for Agra, our home base. Robin, returning from a mission, was low on fuel. I made an extra orbit so that he could land first, then I came in for landing. As we hurtled down the runway, I saw flashes ahead of us. It took me a while to realise that they were exploding bombs dropped by Pakistani aircraft. I felt so utterly hopeless. There was no evasive action we could take. Mohanty, my navigator, was yelling to stop the aircraft but I could not and went through the shrapnel, mud and debris kicked up by the Pakistani bombs.

In the forthcoming get-together I am hoping to meet both Mohanty and Robin at Agra. I have to make a mention of the Pakistani pilot whose inaccurate aim made it possible for this story to be told.