Had it not been for the September 18 earthquake that devastated Sikkim, Flight Lieutenant Arunima Vidhate would have perhaps been working on her backhand at a squash court.
But on Saturday, the 26-year-old squash buff along with two women helicopter pilots were in their flying gear, waiting to execute yet another rescue mission in North Sikkim’s intimidating terrain.
That go-ahead didn’t come as the weather turned treacherous and rescue efforts were called off for the second straight day.
"There are people out there who have been cut off from the world. The ‘whop-whop-whop’ sound of a chopper lights up their faces and gives them hope,” said Arunima, who has logged more than 350 flying hours on Chetak and Cheetah helicopters.
She is one of the 30 air force pilots who are in the thick of operations at Bagdogra — the nerve centre of the IAF’s rescue and relief efforts.
The pilots have flown more than 100 sorties on Chetak, Cheetah and MI-17 choppers assigned to this airbase. Flight Lieutenant Poornima Ranade, 25, had never felt a quake of such magnitude before. She said, “I was assigned a rescue mission on Thursday, but I couldn’t land due to rough weather. It’s hard to even imagine what these people are going through.”