India

Gujarat: During flood rescue, IAF pilots flew on low fuel, battling fading light, language barriers

Gujarat: During flood rescue, IAF pilots flew on low fuel, battling fading light, language barriers

Helicopters running on low fuel and pilots encountering language barriers and fading light were among stories narrated by aviators of the Indian Air Force involved in the rescue and relief operations, saving over 300 persons from flood-ravaged Maharashtra and Gujarat earlier this month.

A 17-member team from the South Western Air Command (SWAC) in Gandhinagar conducted over 130 sorties between the last week of July and August 11, 2019, in both the states, where 23,000 kilograms of food packets were dropped and 60 tonne of relief material airlifted.

In the biggest rescue undertaken in Gujarat, Wing Commander UC Vaish flew a Mi-17 V5 helicopter, created an “air bridge” and rescued 125 persons who were stranded on a road that was washed away from both sides near Hajipir in Kutch district.

“We got information around 4 pm and we had to get airborne quickly as we were in Jamnagar. Hajipir was in Kutch, which was far. The area was completely submerged. The first attempt at rescue was difficult as everyone wanted to get onboard be the first to be rescued. Thereafter, NDRF coordinated the efforts,” said Wing Commander Vaish, who was among the team members who gathered at SWAC headquarters to interact with mediapersons on Thursday.

“We had to do everything quickly due to the fading light. There was a huge number of people to be rescued. We continued to pick them up and drop them at a safe place. By the end of the operation, we were running short on fuel and night was fast approaching. By the end of the operation around 7 pm, we barely had enough fuel to reach Bhuj,” said Vaish who was operating the helicopter with a four-member crew that conducted about six sorties to evacuate stranded people.

Flight Lieutenant Parul who flew with Squadron Leader Krishnan and was among the first to react in a flooded South Gujarat region said that the biggest rescue attempt conducted by them was in a submerged prawn farm in Surat. “We saw around 25 people stranded in a prawn farm and there was no space to land,” she said adding that they were winched up to safety. Thereafter the duo flew to Kolhapur and Sangli in Maharashtra where the team was engaged in dropping relief supplies. The youngest member of the team, Flight Lieutenant Karan Deshmukh, risked himself to save an elderly woman from floodwaters in Navsari district. “An elderly woman was waving a red flag from a hut that was partially submerged. Helicopter could not land due to flood waters. I winched down, swam to her flooded house where she was in waist-deep water. I tried to convince her to leave. She could barely understand Hindi but we finally left with her and her mobile,” narrated Deshmukh about the operation on August 4.

The IAF officiers said they helped the NDRF reach the Mahalaxmi Express train that was marooned in floodwaters in Badlapur in Maharashtra. The IAF also helped in mobilising over 200 personnel of the Army, Navy, NDRF and SDRF in both the states.