IAF comes out in flying colours
26 February 2005
Pir Panjal: Thousands of people who live on this 11,000-foot high mountain rampart are virtually cut off from the rest of the country. The land route has been blocked due to heavy snowfall. Airdropping of food packets and round-the-clock rescue sorties by the Air Force provide the much-needed relief to the distressed residents here. The likes of Squadron Leader A. Jena have set a record of sorts in the last 20 days of rescue operations in the higher reaches of Jammu and Kashmir. A single pilot has rescued more than 500 persons from the remote and inaccessible parts of the State swamped by unprecedented snowfall. This was one of the biggest peacetime operations by the Indian Air Force in the State going by sheer logistics. Mr. Jena said: 'I was in Congo for a year as part of the peace-keeping forces and transported United Nations peacekeepers under insurgency-like conditions. In the last 20 days I have flown all over Jammu and Kashmir and what satisfies me is the cent per cent success rate in the operations.' Squadron Leader Guna recalled a particular rescue operation. He had to pick up a woman and her three-year-old son though the aircraft was packed to capacity. 'We took the child and also made place for the lady close to the cockpit.' The Chief Operations, Air Force (J&K), Wing Commander Pankaj Gupta, said: 'It is definitely a long drawn out operation. My duty hour starts at 7.30 a.m. and goes on till 11.30 p.m. My job is to coordinate and arrange flights for the rest of the State. You can well imagine the magnitude of the operations.' About a daring rescue operation in Pangal valley of Ladakh situated at a height of 9,000 feet above sea level, he said: 'We took a chance to evacuate some 54 foreign nationals stuck there even though the wind velocity was 70 km an hour.' The Air Force has rescued 25,010 civilians and soldiers since February 5. Over a 1,000 sorties have been undertaken to evacuate civilians and drop food packets. The Udhampur-based Station Commander Manvendra Singh told The Hindu: 'The problem is one of crowd management. Bigger aircraft like IL-76 which can accommodate more than 300 passengers at a time have helped us solve this problem to a large extent.'