Hours after the Israeli Embassy sought help from the ministry of external affairs to evacuate a severely injured and unconscious mountaineer, the Indian Air Force on Sunday launched two light utility helicopters from its Leh base to carry out a daring rescue at dizzying heights in the Stok range of the Himalayas.
Known for having cycled around the world, Roei Sadan's brush with death came after the seasoned mountaineer, in his early 30s, lost his balance and tumbled down several hundred feet during a trek to Stok Kangri perched at 20,182 feet in Ladakh.
The Cheetah helicopter flown by Wing Commander BS Sehrawat, commanding officer of the helicopter unit in Leh, spotted Sadan lying motionless on a snow-covered slope at a height of 18,350 feet after a 10-minute flight from Leh.
Sehrawat manoeuvred his single-engine chopper closer to Sadan, with one of its landing skids brushing against the snow and the other hanging in the air, allowing his co-pilot to carry out the evacuation in thin Himalayan air in less than 25 minutes.
The rotor blade tips of the helicopter were dangerously close to the slope on which Sadan lay. He is recovering in a Leh hospital.
Sadan is an adventure junkie who has pedalled his way across 42 countries, covering a distance of 66,000 km in four-and-a-half years.
"At those heights, the Cheetah is at the extreme end of its flight envelope. Power reserves are also at minimal levels. It was an extremely challenging mission," said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), who commanded the Leh-based helicopter unit in the mid 1990s.
The unit, nicknamed Siachen Pioneers, has been involved in a string of dramatic rescue missions - it saved the lived of 22 foreigners stranded in the Ladakh mountains last week.
Israeli Embassy spokesperson Ohad Horsandi told Hindustan Times, "Things often do not move fast on Sundays but the rescue was possible because of the incredible cooperation extended to us by the MEA, the Air Force and the Army."
The airworthiness of the Cheetah helicopter has come into question after a string of mishaps in recent years. A group of wives of serving officers had met defence minister Manohar Parrikar earlier this year, demanding that the outdated helicopters be retired from service.
However, flying these machines in a hostile environment is all in a day's work for the likes of Sehrawat.
India had last August scrapped a Rs 6,000-crore project to import light utility helicopters for the Army and the Air Force to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak helicopters used in high-altitude areas to support troops. The new helicopters will now be produced locally by an Indian firm in collaboration with a foreign company.