Is this a tragic accident or wanton destruction?The Chief Minister of Gujarat was in that plane and I don’t know from what angle it becomes a civilian plane?
OK…the story below.
At 10am on Sep 19 1965, the Gujarat chief minister Balwant Rai Mehta left home, heading for a National Cadet Corps rally in Ahmedabad. Exhorting the cadets to “boost the country’s defence” , Mehta talked about skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani troops in the Rann of Kutch, and the raging war in Jammu & Kashmir. After the rally, Mehta returned home for a quick lunch and at about 1.30pm, he was heading towards the Ahmedabad airport. As Mehta, his wife Sarojben, three aides and a reporter for ‘Gujarat Samachar’ stepped out of their cars at the tarmac, Jehangir M Engineer, a former IAF pilot now working as chief pilot for the state government, clicked his heels and gave a sharp salute to the CM.
They shook hands and moved towards their aircraft — Beechcraft Model 18, a twin-engine , twintailed eight-seater with four side windows and low wings. Engineer then got into the cockpit, checked the dials, nodded to his co-pilot and pressed forward the throttle. Within minutes, the made-in-US ‘Twin Beech’ roared into the air, turned to the left and began climbing against the clear blue skies. Jehangir’s destination was Mithapur, a small airport at the southern mouth of the Gulf of Kutch near Dwarka . The distance was 400km; and the expected time of arrival 3pm IST.
At 3.30pm PST, Flt Lt A I Bukhari and Flying Officer Qais Hussain of the No. 18 Squadron were asked to check a suspicious radar contact south-west of Bhuj. Grabbing their helmets the two Pakistan Air Force pilots rushed towards their F-86 F Sabres, the US-made , swept-wing jet fighter aircraft. While Bukhari was leading , Hussain was second in the formation. With their engines screaming, the pilots waited for instructions from their controllers .
At 3.45pm, Hussain took off alone as Bukhari had to abort at the last minute due to starting problems with his F-86 . At 3.52pm, Flt Lt A S Kazmi took off from the base in a standby Sabre to back up Hussain but he couldn’t catch up with the rookie pilot who was zipping towards the border. Once in the air, Hussain changed his radio frequency to ground-controlled interception (GCI) at Badin’s FPS-20 radar, not very far from the Indian border. After 20 minutes, as Hussain entered the Indian air space at 20,000 feet, the GCI asked him to descend to 3,000 feet, take a left turn and get a visual of the target. As he lowered his F-86 , Hussain lost radio contact with Badin and he began relaying his messages to GCI through Kazmi, who was still holding at 20,000 feet at the border.
Then Hussain spotted the ‘target’ . Flying extremely close to it, Hussain read the plane’s markings and the number starting with VT and passed his initial report to Badin through Kazmi: “It is a twin-engined , twin-tailed aircraft….with four side windows, probably an eightseater ….it is flying at 3,000 feet. Request further instructions.” “Standby,” replied the GCI controller through Kazmi. While the controller consulted his superiors , Hussain kept orbiting on top of the twin-tailed aircraft. After three-four minutes of anxious waiting, Kazmi relayed Badin’s message to Hussain: “You are clear to shoot.” Hussain reconfirmed the message. “You are clear to shoot,” said Kazmi again. Hussain positioned himself behind the Indian plane, which had begun to climb up and was waggling its wings, a begging-for-mercy signal. That went unheeded as Hussain made a first pass and fired a short burst from about 1,000 feet and saw a splinter fly off from the left wing of the plane. Then he fired a longer burst at the right wing, which was wobbling but still flying. The plane’s right engine soon caught fire and it began to fall in a 90-degree vertical dive, blowing up just off the coast in a ball of fire. With his fuel tank almost bone dry and Kazmi calling repeatedly to say that the Badin radar was reporting several aircraft — possibly Vampires from Jamnagar — heading towards them, Hussain turned back to Mauripur and just about managed to make an emergency landing. “I immediately called the controller to ask why we shot a civilian aircraft. He told me that the plane had been flying very close to the border for a considerable period of time and they suspected that the Indian Army was using a civilian aircraft for recce purposes to open a new war front in the south where the two armies had already come face to face in April,” says Hussain
Exhausted, Hussain retired to the officers ‘ mess. At 7pm, All India Radio announced that an Indian civilian aircraft with the Gujarat chief minister, his wife, three aides, one journalist and two pilots had been shot down by a Pakistani jet inside India. The Beechcraft had exploded near the village of Suthali, some 100km from Mithapur, the radio said.
Suddenly, after 45 years of this incident, the pilot decides to contact the family of the pilot to apologize for(or justify as the letter content is) his actions on that day. He gets into contact with the daughter of the pilot and mails her.
The pilot’s letter –
“Dear Mrs. Singh,
“I am glad that by now we know about each other and it is no surprise that I am writing to you, thanks to Naushad Patel and Jagan Pillarisetti.
“The incident happened 46 years back but it is as fresh in my mind as if it had happened yesterday. The aircraft flown by your father had drifted off course by many a miles and in his search for the destination, he had been going up and down in the border area of Rann of Katchh for quite some time and it made our Radar Controllers uncomfortable. I happened to be strapped up in my aircraft along with another pilot (my Leader) in his, on two minutes take-off alert. We were scrambled but I had to take off alone, and with the help from my radar controller, intercepted your father’s aircraft which was considered to be on a recce mission to open a new war front. I caught sight of him at 3000’ and made a pass so close that I could read his markings and the number of the aircraft. Your father spotted my presence immediately and he started climbing and waggling his wings seeking mercy. “Instead of firing at him at first sight, I relayed to my controller that I had intercepted an eight seat transport aircraft (guessing by the four side windows) and wanted further instructions to deal with it. At the same time, I was hoping that I would be called back without firing a shot. There was a lapse of 3 to 4 long minutes before I was given clear orders to shoot the aircraft.
“After the shooting, I had a sense of achievement and satisfaction that I had completed my mission and destroyed any recce data that might have been collected to open a new war front. I landed back at Mauripur, Karachi with my fuel tanks bone dry and was greeted by my seniors and other squadron colleagues. Later that evening, All India Radio announced the names of the occupants who had lost their lives in that aircraft.
“The reason that I have been trying to get in touch with you since recently is an article by Air Cdre Kaiser Tufail in April 2011, in which he researched the whole incident and came out with his story by interviewing me, the radar controller (a Flying Officer) and his supervisor (a Wing Commander) who took the decision to order the shoot. I have also read numerous versions that appeared in the Indian media at the time, said to be eyewitness accounts from peasants of Mithapur which are unfortunately based on hearsay. Even the findings of an Enquiry Committee constituted by the Indian Government are nowhere near to what actually happened. I was alone at the site of incident while my Leader who took off finally about 6 to 7 minutes after me (due to change of aircraft and a new pilot), was perched at the border at 20,000’ acting as a relay station between me and the controller at Badin. I had lost contact somewhere while descending to 3,000’ and had we not had this aircraft at 20,000’ at the border, I would not have found your father’s aircraft and he would not have lost his life along with all the others. Nonetheless, the unfortunate part in all this is that I had to execute the orders of my controller.
“Mrs Singh, I have chosen to go into this detail to tell you that it all happened in the line of duty and it was not governed by the concept that ‘everything is fair in love and war’, the way it has been portrayed by the Indian media due to lack of information. I did not play foul and went by the rules of business but the unfortunate loss of precious lives, no matter how it happens, hurts each human and I am no exception. I feel sorry for you, your family and the other seven families who lost their dearest ones. I feel greatly grieved that you lost your brother Noshir recently. If an opportunity ever arises that I could meet you face to face to condole the death of your father 46 years back I would grab it with both hands. I would highly appreciate if you please convey my feelings to the other members of your family, who were equally hurt by the untimely departure of Jungoo to the next world.
“I hope and pray that you and your family stay well
“My best regards…
And the reply –
From: Farida Singh
10 August 2011 09:49
Subject: Re: Condolence
To: Qais Hussain
Dear Mr. Hussain,
Firstly, thank you for your condolences on the passing away of my brother Noshir.
I am somewhat overwhelmed at receiving this letter, even though I was expecting it as Jagan Pillarisetti had been in touch with me recently on this.
It took courage for you to write this. And for me, too, (I say this humbly) it takes the same to write back . But my father was Courage and Grace at their finest and I now speak on behalf of him, my extraordinary, gracious mother (who survived my father by just 16 years), my late brother Noshir and my elder sister in Canada who is unfortunately legally blind.
Yes, this was the one incident which defined our lives henceforth. But in all the struggles that followed, we never, not for one moment, bore bitterness or hatred for the person who actually pulled the trigger and caused my father’s death.The fact that this all happened in the confusion of a tragic war was never lost to us. We are all pawns in this terrible game of War and Peace.
A little more about my father. An ace pilot if ever there as one. A WWII veteran fighter pilot, a great leader of men, a willing team player, strong in body and spirit. This would have been just the view of an adoring daughter, had it not been reflected by all those fortunate enough to know him. Most of all was the generosity of spirit, and his intuitive understanding of the pain of others. Hence it is now easy for me to reach out my hand to receive your message. This incident is indeed a prime example of what damage strife and mindless battles can drive even good men to do.
Thank you again for your gesture. I know it was not an easy thing for you to do.
In closing, I would like to say that I have no idea as to how your email has made the front page in some prominent dailies here. (Jagan knows how publicity-shy I generally am). A friend told me about it and I then re-checked my inbox and opened your mail this morning, 4 days after you sent it.
However, I am glad that it is now public as it can do nothing but heal wounds, not just on a personal scale but in a much wider arena. And most of all, my father would have liked that it goes towards bringing a spark of forgiveness between our two peoples, who after all were one.