The first few hours of IAF pilot in Pak territory

Last Updated 01 March 2019, 04:55 IST

At around 8:45 am on Thursday morning, Pakistani skies in Bhimber district, nearly 200 Km from Islamabad were lit up.

Details of the ‘dogfight’ remain hazy at best but anonymous sources close to the developments have said that the skirmish began as at least ten Pakistan Air Force (PAF) aircraft were seen heading for military targets along the Line of Control (LoC).

In response, a combat air patrol, which had at least two MiG-21 and Su30 MKI fighter jets, was launched from the Indian side to engage them.

Two aircraft — a Pakistani F-16 and an Indian MiG-21 — were ultimately downed, according to sources who said that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the captured soldier behind enemy lines, managed to let off a short-range R73 missile against an intruding F-16 and thus brought it down.

“During the engagement, his MiG-21 crossed the LoC to retain the locking on the target and was shot down either by a surface-to-air missile or another Pakistani jet. The jet was a twin-seater and that the fighter formation had taken off from three different bases,” read an Economic Times report quoting anonymous sources.

Photos of the wreckage of the F-16 emerged today, even as Pakistan has been denying India's version of events.

While some disturbing videos of the pilot’s capture had emerged yesterday, Pakistan newspaper Dawn and BBC Urdu today reconstructed and chronicled some dramatic moments just before Abhinandan’s capture through collecting eyewitness accounts.

"I saw the Indian flag on his parachute and knew he was from the other side of the LoC. I also saw his plane get hit and him float down," Mohammad Razzaq Chaudhry, a resident of Bhimber district in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and who witnessed the moment the jet was shot down on Wednesday, told BBC Urdu.

He added that locals rushed to the fallen pilot and that he was "afraid" that they might harm him.

"I told them not to harm him but to leave him alone until the army came," he said.

Abhinandan reportedly told the locals that his “back was broken” and he needed water to drink, according to Chaudhry’s interview with Dawn. The pilot then reportedly shot in the air and ran for half a kilometre as youths with stones chased him.

Reaching a small pond, Abhinandan took out some documents from his pockets, tried to destroy them and reportedly even tried to swallow them. He was caught and roughed up by the locals until the army arrived.

“The boys kept on asking him to drop his weapon and in the meanwhile, one boy shot at his leg,” Chaudhry told Dawn.

Abhinandan was then taken to an army installation in Bhimber in a convoy of military vehicles through crowds of cheerful citizens who showered rose petals on the military vehicles and chanted slogans like ‘Long Live Pakistan Army’.

“Thank God, none of the furious boys shot him dead because he had given them quite a tough time,” he said.

(Published 28 February 2019, 12:18 IST)

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