A kind of a thud and ‘something’ whirring from nowhere was the first sign that something has gone seriously amiss. Humble tea estate workers, in their serene Western Ghats village in Nilgiris District of Tamil Nadu were quickly overwhelmed with a sense of foreboding.
Soon, it was sheer disbelief that gripped them in their modest hillside colony when they saw a frightening bright blaze emerging from the misty woods amid clanking of metal objects.
Though it was a little past noon, fog still shrouded the hills on Wednesday. Although neither workers nor their family members could comprehend what was unfolding, they and some local people were the first to reach the location, where the Air Force helicopter, with Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and 12 other people on board, crashed.
While Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 other people on board died, IAF Group Captain Varun Singh became the lone survivor of the ill-fated Mi-17V5 helicopter crash.
The Shaurya Chakra awardee, who was admitted to the hospital with 80-85 per cent burn injuries on Wednesday, is maintaining vitals and will be shifted to Bengaluru.
A year ago, he had a close call when a Light Combat Aircraft that he was flying developed system failure, resulting in total loss of control. Going “beyond the call of duty”, he managed to land the aircraft and for this “act of exceptional gallantry”, he was awarded the Shaurya Chakra on Independence Day this year.
According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, Wing Commander Varun Singh, was on October 12, 2020, flying a system check sortie in LCA, away from the parent base, after major rectification of the Flight Control System (FCS) and pressurisation system (life support environment control system). During the sortie, the cockpit pressurisation failed at high altitude.
“He correctly identified the failure and initiated a descent to lower altitude for landing. While descending, the Flight Control System failed and led to total loss of control of the aircraft. This was an unprecedented catastrophic failure that had never occurred,” the Defence Ministry statement had said.
There was a rapid loss of altitude while in usual attitude, with the aircraft pitching up and down viciously going to the extremities of G limits. Despite being in extreme physical and mental stress in an extreme life-threatening situation, Wing Commander Varun Singh maintained exemplary composure and regained control of the aircraft, thereby exhibiting exceptional flying skill.
Soon thereafter, at about 10,000 feet, the aircraft again experienced total loss of control with vicious manoeuvring and uncontrollable pitching. Under such a scenario, the pilot was at liberty to abandon the aircraft. Faced with a potential hazard to his own life, he displayed extraordinary courage and skill to safely land the fighter aircraft, the statement noted.
The pilot went beyond the call of duty and landed the aircraft taking calculated risks. This allowed an accurate analysis of the fault on the indigenously designed fighter and further institution of preventive measures against recurrence.
“Due to his high order of professionalism, composure and quick decision making, even at the peril of his life, he not only averted the loss of an LCA, but also safeguarded civilian property and population on the ground,” the statement further said.
Right now Government’s complete focus is on Singh’s treatment and his swift recovery following which he can be in a position to explain what led to the Mi-V175 chopper crash.
Home Minister Amit Shah said that he is praying for the speedy recovery of Group Captain Varun Singh. He is being treated currently at the Military Hospital, Wellington.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted, “Praying for the speedy recovery of Group Capt Varun Singh, who is currently under treatment at the Military Hospital, Wellington.”