Miracle in Leh

Miracle in Leh

We spotted an aircraft on its ascent as we approached Leh. We had missed the flight.

Way back in1989, I was assigned the task of getting a document­ary film produced by the Films Division on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). I was working as a Public Relations Officer of the CRPF then which was celebrating its golden jubilee year.

Having completed the shooting in Jaffna, Jaisalmer, and the North East, we had to shoot the film in Hot Springs on the Sino-Indian border where 10 CRPF men sacrificed their lives fighting the Chinese hordes on October 22, 1959. The day is observed as Police Commemoration Day by all police and para-military forces of the country in memory of the police martyrs.

Along with Sunil Virmani, the Films Division Cameraman, I boarded the Air Force helicopter at the air base in Leh. Since our flight tickets had been booked for return journey to New Delhi the same afternoon, I asked my brother, Phillips Daniel, then a Squadron Leader posted there to collect the boarding passes for the flight, in case we got delayed.

We were soon headed towards our destination. The stunning view of the rivers and roads and the verdant scenic view below mesmerised us. Re-fuelling on the way at an army camp, put us back by an hour as the storeman of the fuel dump had to be located.

Past the beautiful stunning blue-hued calm and serene Pangyong Tso lake, 40% of which falls in the Indian territory and the rest in China, we approached the isolated Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) post, close to the Chinese border. The Indian tricolour fluttering in the post filled me with patriotic fervor as well as pride for our ITBP boys who serve in such far-flung, remote and uninhabited difficult areas.

Before we hopped out of the helicopter, the pilot reminded us that we were to complete our task at the earliest as the machines would continue whirring — to save on fuel.  At the Martyrs Memorial, adjacent to the post, the ITBP personnel had lined up. We paid homage to the martyrs by saluting, as the camera­man went about his task and shot a good length of the film. In less than 15 minutes, we rushed back to the chopper and were headed towards Leh. After about two hours of cruising and anxiety getting the better of us, we spotted an aircraft on its ascent as we approached Leh airport. We had missed the flight.

Thence began my ordeal. The manager of the local Indian Airlines office was emphatic that no seats were available for the next one month. A batchmate of mine then posted at Leh in a very senior position and even Air Force officers made all efforts to get us a booking for the next day but to no avail. In utter despair, I retired to bed at night, praying that some miracle take place the following day so I could be in Delhi.

The following morning, I got a call from the CRPF officer in-charge of airport security. On his enquiry, I informed him of my plight. Expressing surprise, he asked me to get ready to come to the airport. An hour later, we were greeted at the airport by the CRPF officer with two tickets in hand. My joy knew no bounds. Indeed, a miracle it was and I was soon on the flight to Delhi, thanking God for answering my prayers.