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Young pilot’s space dream killed mid-air

Captain Varsha Gopinath (18) — a huge fan of Kalpana Chawla — would have become India’s youngest woman pilot but her life was cut short in its prime, reports Ramesh Babu.
None | By Ramesh Babu, Thiruvananthapuram
UPDATED ON JUL 10, 2007 08:37 AM IST

In just two months, Captain Varsha Gopinath — a huge fan of Kalpana Chawla — would have become India’s youngest woman pilot. But it was not to be and like her idol, her life was to be cut short in its prime. The 18-year-old from Thiruvananthapuram was one of three killed in the mid-air plane crash in the Philippines on Sunday.

Varsha, a trainee pilot, and her instructor Reena Salve, also from India, died when their Cessna collided with another Cessna. Patrick Philip Truel, the pilot of the other aircraft, was also killed.

“We tried our best to dissuade her from flying, since we were aware of the risks involved. She would argue that nobody could overturn fate and danger lurked everywhere, even on the footpath,” Varsha’s inconsolable father N.G. Pillai, a Gulf returnee, lamented.

Having always dreamt of flying, Varsha had joined Air Titan, a private company in Kochi, and finished her ground classes in two months. She had then gone abroad for training due to the high costs in India. She had completed nearly 45 of the 200 flying hours required for a commercial pilot’s licence, the first step towards fulfilling her dream of becoming an astronaut.

“It was her childhood dream, ever since she was seven. After becoming a pilot, she wanted to study space science. Kalpana Chawla was her idol. But now, everything has perished,” Pillai said.

A teacher at Vidyathi Raja Higher Secondary School, from where Varsha passed out, remembered her as a “hardworking girl who aimed high... It is sad that such an enterprising girl met with such a tragedy”.

Air Titan officials were not available for comment, though it is learnt that the company is arranging to have her body reach here in a couple of days.

Ironically, Varsha probably would have never gone abroad had the state government-owned Kerala Aviation Training Centre not suspended operations after its chief flight instructor left.

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