Naval divers on Thursday recovered the body of Lieutenant Kiran Shekhawat from the wreckage of a naval plane, two days after it crashed into the Arabian Sea off the coast of Goa.
Shekhawat, 26, was one of the two naval aviators who went missing after their India-made Dornier surveillance plane crashed on Tuesday. There is dim hope of survival for her co-pilot, Sub Lieutenant Abhinav Nagori.
Shekhawat is the first female officer to have been killed in a naval crash. Her body was found in the plane’s fuselage lying on the seabed at a depth of 50 metres. The navy’s hydrographic vessel, the INS Makar, detected the Dornier’s 16-metre long fuselage using its side scan sonar.
One of the navy’s 49 female observers, Shekhawat was born to a sailor in May, 1988 and grew up at naval bases chasing dreams of becoming an officer. Her brother is a serving sailor.
“She was very proud of her roots. I was praying for a miracle,” said a female officer, who knew Kiran for over five years.
Shekhawat joined service in July 2010 and three years later, tied the knot with Lieutenant VS Chokker — who is an instructor at the Naval Academy in Ezhimala, Kerala. “They mostly stayed away from each other after getting married two years ago as they were posted in different places. She was quite creative and loved dancing,” said another female officer.
She was part of the navy’s all-woman marching contingent at the Republic Day parade this year. But she was a tad apprehensive about not making the cut due to her short stature. “She impressed everyone with her turnout and drill. Being a part of the parade meant a lot to her. We would all hang out together in Khan Market or go shopping to Sarojini Nagar,” recalled a colleague who also took part in the parade.
The Dornier’s pilot, Commander Nikhil Kuldip Joshi — a seasoned hand with over 4,000 flying hours — miraculously survived the crash and was picked up by a fishing boat. This is the first Dornier to crash since the planes were inducted in the navy in the early 1990s.