While a debate rages on about the veracity of events depicted in new Bollywood movie ‘Airlift’ on India’s massive evacuation efforts in war-ravaged Kuwait, a former Air India official said it was carried out with ‘clock-work precision’ and made it to the Guinness World Records.
“The film ‘Airlift’ has brought the evacuation of over 117,000 Indians residing in Kuwait once again on the centre stage after 25 years. How did the feat get listed as a record in the Guinness Book makes for an interesting reading,” said former Air India (AI) executive director Jitender Bhargava in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
Bhargava said as head of AI’s Public Relations, he would issue daily media statements about the number of flights that were operated in the past 24 hours, the number of stranded passengers safety brought from Amman in Jordan to various Indian cities, the next day’s plans of flight operations, etc.
“Since it wasn’t the era of Google which enables one to source information easily, I walked from my office in Air India building to the book store in Eros Cinema complex near Churchgate in Mumbai, picked up a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records to access the address of the editor/publisher of Guinness book,” he recalled.
Armed with that, he posted (the world didn’t know e-mails then) a letter to the Guinness editor enquiring if any record of evacuation by a civil airliner existed.
A fortnight later, Guinness editor replied through a letter that it did not have a record in their books, Bhargava said.
Meanwhile, the evacuation continued briskly with AI deploying as many aircraft as possible and even the now-merged entity, the domestic carrier Indian Airlines, and Indian Air Force extending a helping hand with their aircraft to bolster capacity to meet the growing demand.
“After the evacuation operation was completed, I sent a comprehensive letter to Guinness providing details of total number of passengers carried, flights operated, duration of the entire exercise, etc. Guinness accepted the record and duly intimated us through a letter,” Bhargava said.
Then, there was a long waiting period and it was only after a few months that the new edition of the Guinness Book of World Records was published with Air India’s achievements duly listed.
“I once again walked to the same book store from where I had sourced the Guinness address to buy a copy of the book for our company’s archives,” Bhargava recalls with a smile.
AI’s achievement is still a part of historical records, a feat performed between August 13-October 11, 1990.
More than 1,70,000 Indians were stranded in Kuwait at that time and AI operated some 488 flights to evacuate them from Amman to Mumbai, a distance of more than 4,000 km.
The massive operation was conducted during the Persian Gulf War and helped evacuate Indians living in Kuwait and Iraq.