New Delhi, Aug. 14: An Indian Air Force pilot who rescued police commandos after Naxalites riddled his helicopter with bullets in Chhattisgarh is to be given a medal for gallantry, an award that highlights the defence establishment’s concerns over getting embroiled in counter-Maoist operations.
Wing Commander Vatsal Kumar Singh is among the 62 gallantry award winners of the armed forces and central police organisations approved by the President.
In awarding the Shaurya Chakra to the wing commander, the government has also confirmed a report — that was denied officially in December 2011 — that the Naxalites were finding their mark in shooting helicopters deployed in the counter-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh.
The Shaurya Chakra is next only to the Ashoka and Kirti Chakras for gallantry in peacetime.
The citation for the award to Wing Commander Singh details his act of courage in rescuing a team of 17 Cobra commandos of the CRPF and the state police on December 19, 2011.
The pilot was tasked to fly a low-level mission over thick forests of the Bheji police station area near Chintagufa in south Bastar. The site where he was to land was a clearing in the jungle with tall trees around it and the surface was uneven that made his assignment more difficult. In other words, the landing site was insecure.
It is the job of the police forces to secure landing sites for helicopters, a point repeatedly emphasised by the defence ministry.
Singh had already flown two sorties transporting 30 commandos from the jungle to his base in Jagdalpur. Just after lifting off for the third time with 17 troopers on board, Singh heard the rat-a-tat of automatic weapons’ fire from the ground to his left.
He swivelled and turned sharply away from the probable direction of fire while gaining height. He looked at the displays in the cockpit and after concluding that the aircraft parameters were normal he headed for Jagdalpur.
But minutes later the helicopter began shuddering and the smell of burnt explosive filled the cargo compartment where the troopers were packed in. The vibrations threatened to throw the helicopter out of control and pointed to the possibility of engine malfunction.
The wing commander kept his cool and reduced speed till the vibrations were manageable, all the while monitoring the dials that showed how the engines were functioning. He did not know then that 10 bullets from Insas or AK-47 rifles had pierced through the helicopter.
“His calm and controlled composure and exceptional courage ensured that he tracked every event in the helicopter meticulously and brought 17 men and the machine to safety, in an extremely professional manner after flying for 40 long and demanding minutes,” says the citation.
“In recovering the helicopter and personnel on board from the precarious situation in the face of intense danger and imminent threat to life, he showed exceptional courage and flying skills of the highest order,” the IAF says, for which he was being awarded the medal.
It shows not only the active duty that the armed forces play in peacetime but also the indispensability of the machine itself.
Lieutenant Commander Sujith Parakkat Menon, a pilot, and Petty Officer Ramesh Kumar Kumhar, an aircrew man-cum-diver, have been awarded the Nao Sena Medal for flying their UH-3H helicopter of the Indian Naval Air Squadron 350 in rough weather to rescue fishermen in the Bay of Bengal after Cyclone Thane hit off Vizag coast in December last year.
Assistant commandants Nagendra Singh and Vinoj P. Joseph of the CRPF Cobra have been awarded the Shaurya Chakra for killing Maoist leader Kishan in West Midnapore on November 24, 2011.