As the Indian Air Force celebrated its 85th anniversary on October 8, it honoured six officers with Vayu Sena Medals for gallantry.
From an officer who took on terrorists during the attack on the Pathankot airbase and confined them to a specific area, which eventually proved to be the gamechanger; to the officer who saved sixteen lives (and an MI 17 helicopter); to the pilot whose relentless flying helped douse a hill fire that was threatening to reach the Vaishno Devi Shrine in Jammu & Kashmir; to officers who braved machine failure and damage in the air to prevent catastrophe on the ground -- here are their stories.
Squadron Leader Bhavesh Kumar Dubey
On January 2, 2016 when heavily armed terrorists stormed the Pathankot Air Force Station, Squadron Leader Bhavesh Kumar Dubey was leading a squad of IAF Special Forces for a search operation at the under-attack air base.A UAV contact with four suspects was reported to Dubey at about 2.45 am inside MES Yard. Showing keen situational awareness, Dubey estimated that the terrorists were in close proximity to the residential area and immediately deployed his forces to lay a cordon.
While searching the area, his team came under intense hostile fire from terrorists, grievously injuring one of his team members. Dubey maintained his composure and effectively marshalled his troops and spread them out in the area to contain the terrorists within a designated area.
Despite a gunshot wound on the right thigh, Squadron Leader Dubey led from the front and along with his buddies, continued to fight with four terrorists at extremely close range. As a result, he was able to contain them at the same spot for 25 minutes till reinforcements arrived and was able to prevent the terrorists from entering the residential area and creating a possible hostage situation. Dubey also evacuated his injured buddy and returned to action immediately. He then continued to lead his troops till the conclusion of the operation on January 7, 2016.
Squadron Leader Vikas Puri is a flying pilot and posted with the MI-17 Helicopter Unit since 2013. On March 12, 2016, Puri was detailed to fly a MI-17 helicopter from Shillong to Tezpur with AOC-in-C, HQ EAC and other senior officials of his entourage on board. The first 30 minutes of the flight were uneventful. Then suddenly, the aircraft experienced fuel booster pump failure which immediately leads of a “rarest of the rare” emergency of “both engine failure” in MI-17 choppers.
Flying at a height of only 4,000 feet in a difficult terrain and with very limited time in hand, Puri promptly analysed the situation and initiated correct recovery actions.
Unaware of the actual cause of failure, displaying exceptional courage, astute technical knowledge, exceptional crew coordination, time ingenious actions and adept handling of the toughest emergency in a helicopter, Squadron Leader Puri recovered the aircraft safely by force-landing it. Even while losing height critically, the officer maintained his composure and dexterously manoeuvred the helicopter to safety barely 250 meters above ground level and averted a certain catastrophe.
Squadron Leader Sukhwinder Singh Multani
In the wee hours of May 18, 2016, the Indian Air Force received a frantic call from Sri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board saying a forest fire was raging on the Trikuta hill and was fast approaching the Shrine. Squadron Leader Multani was immediately tasked with dousing the fire by using a Helicopter Bambi bucket. Multani got airborne for the site in a jiffy. By then, the fire had turned into an inferno and was only 100 meters away from the main walkway to the shrine, putting at risk the lives of thousands of pilgrims.
The fire was spotted on a steep slope surrounded by tall trees making it inaccessible to the firefighters on the ground. Realising the criticality of time, Multani identified the reservoir of Salal Dam at Riasi as a potential source to fill up water.
Reduced visibility due to smoke, excessive turbulence and limited turn radius reduced any margin of error as the aircraft had to be operated at its maximum capacity. The alignment of the fire line required the water drop to be carried out in a direction facing into the hill, making it dangerously difficult unlike other firefighting operations. With the Bambi bucket under slung at 30 meters below the aircraft, the terrain clearance was marginal. The complexity of the mission required courage and skilful handling of the chopper maintaining a high degree of situational awareness.
During the process of dousing the fire, the bunch cable holding the Bambi bucket had got entangled, making it impossible to fill up the water. Returning to base for rectification would have caused loss of precious time and would have allowed the fire to spread. Squadron Leader Multani located a restricted but clear patch next to the reservoir and with no assistance available of ground to secure the Bambi bucket, he deftly manoeuvered the aircraft to land safely. He then himself removed the entanglement and resumed the firefighting operations.Accurate and relentless operations succeeded in dousing the fire and preventing a major catastrophe on the Trikuta hills.
A pilot who while flying a sortie experience multiple failures in quick succession and still managed to land with a single engine preventing a Category 1 accident and saving a valuable aircraft. Flying in a difficult terrain, he experienced oil system failure after 20 minutes of flying. Subsequently, the left engine of the aircraft caught fire. Tanwar calmly assessed the situation and reacted in a controlled manner while staying with the plane. On experiencing oil system failure, he correctly switched off the engine and prevented an engine seizure. He managed to land with a single engine and recover the aircraft.
A pilot who was authorised to fly an air test sortie on MIG 29 aircraft, which involved testing of aircraft at supersonic speeds at a height of 10 kilometres. While conducting this test in Supersonic Flying Corridor, 110 kilometres away from base at a speed of 1.1 Mach—which corresponds to 1200-1300 kmph of true air speed, the canopy perspex of the aircraft shattered resulting in explosive decompression and perspex pieces hitting Sharma on the right shoulder. Notwithstanding the reduced frontal visibility, very high cockpit noise level and heavy aircraft weight, Sharma skillfully handled the damaged aircraft and executed a safe emergency landing. He not just saved his own life and the aircraft, but also prevented possible catastrophic damage to en-route strategically important and vital petro-chemical installations and populated areas.
A pilot who was authorised for a battle innoculation mission. While carrying out the attack profile, the front canopy burst with a loud bang. Verma was hit by large pieces of canopy perspex with great force on his next, resulting in deep wound and injury to his shoulder. The severe wind blast also caused his head to hit the canopy combing, almost rendering him unconscious. Verma was quick to regain control of the aircrat using his instincts. The aircraft was very close to Bareilly town and an ejection would have resulted in catastrophic damage on the ground.
He displayed exceptional courage to brave the strong air blast inside the cockpit, very hazy vision and grave injuries to his shoulder and arm while recovering the aircraft. He prevented loss of property on ground and recovered an expensive aircraft despite being wounded.