PULWAMA/TANGDAR/SRINAGAR: Despite their age difference, Col (retd) Prashant Oak (56) and Abhimanyu Talwar (30) respond with unmistakable urgency, agility and swiftness to situations in Jammu and Kashmir as they get inside the cockpit of their five-seater Bell 206.
This has been the routine for the two Pawan Hans pilots since April 2018 when India’s national chopper service signed an MoU with J&K government. The two work for six weeks at a stretch and then get a break of three weeks. Whenever they miss their families, the two often recall playing basketball, swimming, an occasional adventurous landing in Leh or Kargil. “We are all working for India. Whether it’s pregnant civilian women or injured soldiers of para forces. The satisfaction is immense to rescue them. Some times it’s tears of joy when you see the birth of a child, other times it’s utmost sadness when we lift brave martyrs,” says Prashant, who was part of Operation Vijay with the Indian Army in 1999. The most arduous exercise was after the February 14 Pulwama terror attack, when dozens of jawans had to be air-lifted. In one of the cases last year, the two had evacuated a woman in labour, who was stuck in Rangdum village of Suru valley for four days because the roads to the village were blocked due to heavy snowfall, and there was no hospital in the neighbourhood. “She was almost bent in an L-shape position due to the labour pain. We flew her to Kargil. By the time I finished the second shuttle to Padam, the hospital gave me a wonderful news that she had delivered a baby. Here was a healthy mother and tremendous joy around,” he says. Pawan Hans has deployed three helicopters in Kashmir — Bell 206, Bell 407 and Eurocopter — each having a capacity of five passengers and can fly up to an altitude of 15,000 feet. For civilians, the cost for flying has been subsidised and is largely borne by the J&K government and the Centre. It roughly costs between Rs 2,500-Rs 3,000 and works like an air ambulance. The chopper flies to villages close to LoC sector, Gurez, Keran, Uri and Tangdhar, where either a helipad has been constructed or Indian Army provides the space. Since the service was commissioned, the pilots have flown 4,300 times, rescuing almost 700 civilians and ferrying martyrs. Recently, Pawan Hans had also deployed a female pilot Sunita Kumari apart from veterans Debashish and Paramjit Singh.