Daring IAF pilots fly at night to rescue chopper

Daring IAF pilots fly at night to rescue chopper

In a daring night flying operation, brave pilots of Indian Air Force have flown an advanced light-weight helicopter (ALH) at Gauchar in a drizzling atmosphere on Thursday and managed to land it with torch and car headlights used by the air traffic controller who did not have any other guiding aids at the time.

The pilots decided to fly the chopper in the night, violating safety rules, in order to save the ALH from an impending landslide. They were resting at an Indo-Tibetan Border Police mess at Gauchar on Thursday night when they woke up with warning whistles of an impending landslide. They realised that their helicopter, a ALH MK I, is parked at the ITBP helipad and was likely to get damaged by the landslide.

Although Gauchar advanced landing ground (ALG) was just 5-7 minutes flight, the pilots were handicapped in the absence of any night aids, not even basic airfield lighting. The only options the pilots had was to fly the ALH in the drizzle and poor weather.

Since rules do not permit night flying in the hills, IAF pilots took advice from task force commander Air Commodore Rajesh Isser, who instructed the air traffic controller at Gauchar to reach the ALG with torches and use vehicle lights to provide whatever assistance they could to the pilots who undertook the risky mission.

Five minutes before midnight, the helicopter took off in the dark drizzling valley and the pilots managed to land the chopper after successfully negotiating the weather.

The IAF on Friday pressed its heaviest helicopter, Mi-26, into service to ferry bulldozer and other heavy equipment to an elevated location. The equipment would be used by the administration in cleaning up tonnes of debris and opening up new links.

An Mi-26 carried the equipment from Pithoragarh to Bangapani at an altitude of 13,000 ft, said an official.

Bad weather, however, restricts more flights. Mi-26 is IAF’s heaviest helicopter capable of carrying a load of 20 tonnes. Though India had four of these Russian-origin heavy-lift choppers, only two are functional at the moment and only one of them flies.

Soon after the IAF launched its “Operation Rahat” in the wake of the devastating flood in Uttar Pradesh, the Mi-26 flew once carrying 30 barrels of fuel and 70 paratroopers to Gauchar.

Even though the IAF has downgraded its helicopter operations in Uttarakhand after rescuing almost 21,000 people, as many as 10 helicopters, including Mi-17 V5, Mi-17 IV and Dhruv Advanced Lightweight Helicopters, are still carrying relief material and supporting the administration.

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