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Major Air Chief
The heroic trail goes back to ’92
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 30
A daredevil and breathtaking rescue operation undertaken way back in October 1992 had made Air Marshal Fali Homi Major a real hero. Today, he was appointed as the next Chief of Air Staff to succeed Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi. He becomes the first chopper flyer to head the Indian Air Force.

The ace flyer, a Group Captain in 1992, along with Maj Ivan Joseph Crasto of 1 Para, had in a daring mid-air operation rescued all 10 persons from a cable car which was struck midway after its rope snapped at Timber Trail, near Parwanoo.

He flew several sorties in his MI17 helicopter in an unprecedented evacuation operation. It was during the operation that the winching machine of a MI-17 helicopter developed a snag. The Air Force also used Cheetahs and Chetaks in the operation which was led from the front by Group Capt F.H. Major. Wg Cdr S. Chandra accompanied him in what was later christened as Operation Timber Trail.

“It was a tremendous job as we were just a few feet away from carriage wires,” said Fali Major after the successful completion of the operation.

The mishap, which took place on October 13, 1992, had given me an opportunity to interact with Group Captain Fali Major, who was then commanding a choppers’ unit at Sarsawa.

The memory of this three-day evacuation operation is still fresh in my mind as I had some guests for dinner at my home on that day. Accompanied by our cameraman, Karam Singh, I left for the spot immediately.

Though nothing much of the rescue operations could be conducted that night due to hostile topography and extreme darkness, the fate of 10 tourists, including four women and a child hung in balance for the whole night.

The attendant of the cable car, Ghulam Hussain, had jumped to his death while a tourist, Debashish, also jumped to land in the PGI with grievous injuries.

The Himachal Government, in recognition of the valour and courage of the defence personnel, decided to honour them for a rescue operation which had no parallel before.

Fali Major and his unit got the message about the evacuation operation late in evening on October 13. The instructions were to mount rescue operations from Chandi Mandir the following day at 7 am. The choppers could not be airborne till 8.16 am as there was a fog in the area.

First Cheetahs and Chetaks were tried and later MI 17 was brought in because of their larger winching units. He flew the maximum sorties himself allowing Major Crasto to slither down 110 ft or more to land in the stranded cable car which was precariously hooked on to the snapped rope.

While Fali Major was performing unprecedented feats with his helicopters, commandos led by Major Crasto were proving an able match by lowering themselves into the stranded car, using ropes to rescue each of the 10 passengers, one by one, in an unprecedented mid-air show of exemplary courage and determination.

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