The Telegraph
Thursday , May 10 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999

Captains courageous in mid-air
- Pilots sensed danger early, saved Munda chopper from catching fire

Wednesday’s chopper crash saw two men stand tall amid the rubble of Agusta AW 109.

Jharkhand’s First Couple Arjun and Meera Munda may well owe chief pilot V.K. Singh (53) and co-pilot G.P.S. Kaushik (43) their lives.

The pilots — both ex-servicemen — had sensed something was wrong when the fans of the copter did not stop whirring, throwing awry their plans to land in Kuchai, 100km from the capital. They immediately decided to fly back to Ranchi. Hovering mid-air over Birsa Munda Airport, the duo tried every trick they knew to avoid a free fall — which would have caused the helicopter to burst into flames.

Instead, they tried to exhaust the fuel by moving in the air. Their logic — no fuel, no fire. Besides, it would mean gliding closer to the ground, guaranteeing fewer injuries.

Keeping a cool head mid-air with a VIP cargo is near to impossible. But Singh and Kaushik managed it.

People who know Singh call him a “fighter” and “young-at-heart”.

“No matter how tough things are on or off board, Singh believes in fighting till his last breath,” Neeraj Rathi, chairman of Aryan Aviation Pvt Limited, told The Telegraph over phone from Mumbai. “I say this because I have known him for the last 25 years,” he added.

Singh is currently the managing director of the company and has over 500 hours of flying experience.

“He is a veteran pilot and has flown VIPs for the past 20 years ,” Rathi said.

Singh, from Ghaziabad, is a father of two. “His son M. Singh is a pilot in Australia. His daughter is in Class XI. Wife Shikha is a homemaker,” said Rathi. Singh’s father R. Singh, a retired DSP of Uttar Pradesh, must be a proud man today, Rathi added.

“What Singh did was heroic. Imagine, he prevented the chopper from catching fire. I must add chief minister Arjun Munda is worth praising. He didn’t ignore the pilots’ warning call and agreed that the craft be brought back to Ranchi well in time,” he said.

He added that Singh was quite a “hero among younger pilots” and this incident would add more shine to his halo. Kaushik ably assisted Singh. “Their coordination was beautiful,” said Rathi.

A senior official, Vikas Tomar, told The Telegraph from New Delhi that the “quick assessment of danger” by Singh and Kaushik saved the day.

Singh is in Ranchi ever since Jharkhand hired the copter 18 months ago. Kaushik joined him a year ago.

“We are in touch with Directorate General of Civil Aviation officials since morning. But, I must tell you that everyone in Delhi are praising the pilots who kept their cool and applied their presence of mind,” he said.

Do you have any message for the pilots?