Saturday, May 09, 2009

That Damn Altimeter...

February 1982 - Location - Somewhere in the northern sector-

We, a group of some officers and other ranks of the Indian Army were waiting to board the aircraft which was parked a little distance away on the tarmac. It was a Fairchild Packet Aircraft, a small I.A.F. transport plane which carried supplies and troops to the forward areas.

The Packet aircraft were widely used during second world war. India was one of the few developing countries which still used these aircraft which otherwise had been phased out by the developed nations. We all were scheduled to report to our respective units located in Ladakh.

The morning sun was unable to drive away the winter chill which, however, was nothing as compared to the cold weather which we would be braving after reaching Ladakh. Our names were being noted down in the flight manifest. I saw two pilots coming out of the administration block. One of them looked familiar. Yes it was him - MP Singh from Shimla. I was seeing him after a long time. He also recognised me and walked straight towards me. Violating the protocol of being in uniform we hugged each other.
" What are you doing here ?" I asked the irrelevant question.
" I fly these kites" He pointed towards the aircraft, " and where are you off to" he added in the same breath.
" Well I have come to ride your kite today to reach my new unit". I told him about my transfer to Ladakh.

After landing he called me into the cockpit and showed me the gadgetry.I saw him tapping the dial glass of one of the meters with his index finger, muttering something under his breath. Later on my asking he explained that it was the altimeter and that the damn thing some times malfunctioned i.e., it did not show the correct altitude when the aircraft suddenly dropped height due to air pockets on the way.

He told me that he came there almost every day, and if I wanted something from the plains I could just send a message for him at the airfield. We shook hands and parted company. It was really a great feeling having been flown by a friend on the very first day of the flight into a strange land. We mounted our respective vehicles and proceeded to our units.

I was excited to have come to this region, which still inhabited one of the pure Aryan races. It was white all around. The life seemed to have come to a stand still. The formidable mountain ranges, covered with snow, stood like sentinels of peace and tranquility, yet, hiding a history of many an invasion under their snowy sheets. It was literally a mountain desert with small green patches in the valleys here and there.

I was told to take complete rest for first day and then undergo acclimatization before proceeding to a forward post. Due to lack of oxygen, even massaging your head vigorously could leave you out of breath in the first few days without proper acclimatization.

Next day I was being dined in at the officers' mess. I was introduced to some other officers of the unit who were posted in the headquarters. We were holding our drinks and were chatting when the Commanding Officer walked in. All of us stood up. He was looking serious. He looked at all the officers and gave me a little longer gaze. Without going into pleasantries he said " Gentlemen there is bad news. The aircraft coming to our location has crashed. There were twenty three men, including crew, on board. There seems to be no survivals. The officers and other ranks who flew here yesterday, please arrange to send telegrams to your homes about your being safe." And then he forced a smile and said " let's proceed". The mess waiter had served him a drink by then. He raised his glass towards me but did not say "cheers".

Next day the news papers carried the news of the crash of the Air Force plane, giving the list of the crash victims. Flying Officer Singh's name was on top. The Packet Aircrafts were grounded permanently by the Indian Air Force shortly after that.

When I think of those moments, MP Singh's face flashes back in front of my eyes, tapping helplessly at that damn altimeter.

 I received the following text as comment by an Anonymous sender. I thank him for giving the details of the crash and the names of all those killed.

Date  of Crash )7 February 1982
Aircraft Type C 119 Packet
Jammu Malhar Hills 23 killed

IAF Crew Members
Sqn Ldr NS Paintal (Pilot)
Fg Offr. MP Singh (Co-Pilot)
Warrant Officer P Ramakrishana

Army Personnel
Sep Pritam Chand
Nk Joginder Singh
Sep Satya Narain
Sep Babo Narwade
Nk Mohan Kumar
Swr Ramni Kumar
Nk Cherian Angush
Sep Tashi Chawrang
LNk Thakur Das
Sep Anand Prakash Tiwari
Nk Prem Bahadur Joshi
Sep Munni
Sigmn Uma Shankar
Sigmn Rabinder Nath
Sigmn HK Ghosh
Sigmn Ranbir Singh
Sigmn Kunar Singh
Sigmn Akshey Kumar

Salute to all the departed souls.
This post also forms part of series on my life journey. To read all the posts in this series, please click here.


Roaming Scorpion said...

the mention of packet aircraft revived memories of my childhood. My dad was in HAL and used to take care of these kites for the AF. On aydo puja day, employees could bring their small children to the base. Invariably, I would get to sit in the cockpit of these kites and also a canberra fighter jet. sometime in 1980-81 several commandos were killed when one of the transport planes crashed at agra shortly after take off. A friend's father was among those killed. Whenever I sit in a plane, i remember those people. God bless their families, wherever they are.

J P Joshi said...

Very tragic indeed. I have travelled a number of times in the Packet, sometimes with my beloved Bullet too. It was a workhorse until the runaway propellors took a large toll. Yeah the biggest mishap I believe was the one that happened in Agra immediately after take-off like Basheer mentioned.

Reflections said...

Such a tragedy. Cant even imagine wht must gone through ur mind tht day.
I'm so sorry!!!!!

Balvinder Singh said...

Nancy, i still shudder with the thought of having lost a friend the very next day after having met him after such a long time.

Anonymous said...

Lest we forget; In the manner of the old Greek classics, the telling of the story pauses while the names of the fallen heroes is read out; Let it be so here:

Date of Crash 07 Feb 82 Aircraft Type Packet C-119

Pilot details Sqn Ldr N S Paintal*
Short Text Jammu Malhar Hills 23 Killed
IAF Crew Members:
Sqn Ldr N S Paintal (Pilot)
Fg Off M P Singh (Co Pilot)
Warrant Officer P Ramakrishna.

Army Passengers

2771598 Sep Pritam Chand Staff
6363947 Nk Joginder Singh ASC
6464263 Sep Satya Narayan ASC
6471527 Sep Babo Narwade ASC
7118441 Nk Mohan Kumar P EME
7238442 Swr Ramni Kumar RVC
9921656 Nk Chherian Angush Ladakh Scouts
9921774 Sep Tashi Chawrang Ladakh Scouts
13806852 LNk Thakur Das EME
13833643 Sep Anand Prakash Tiwari ASC
13904747 Nk Prem Bahadur Joshi AMC
13937727 Sep Munni AMC
14224715 Sigmn Uma Shankar Sig
14230985 Sigmn Rabindera Nath Sig
14231407 Sigmn H K Gosh Sig
14231718 Sigmn Rajbir Singh Sig
14270430 Sigmn Kunar Singh Sig
14299328 Sigmn Akshey Kumar Sig

my space said...

visited your blog after a long time...v tragic meet a friend one day and lose him the next day.. God Bless.RIP..