Kargil War: 25 years after Sqn Ldr Ajay Ahuja was killed, commander says wanted to call him back : The Tribune India

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Kargil War: 25 years after Sqn Ldr Ajay Ahuja was killed, commander says wanted to call him back

Kargil War: 25 years after Sqn Ldr Ajay Ahuja was killed, commander says wanted to call him back

Sqn Ldr Ajay Ahuja



Tribune News Service

Ajay Banerjee

New Delhi, May 27

It was 25 years ago on this day that Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jet piloted by Sqn Ldr Ajay Ahuja, tasked with photo reconnaissance during the Kargil conflict, was shot down by Pakistan’s ground-fired missiles over Batalik along the Line of Control in Ladakh. He bailed out and parachuted down into Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

That day, May 27, 1999, Sqn Leader Ahuja had gone beyond the call of duty as he was looking for Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa, whose plane was shot down minutes earlier by similar missiles. Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa too had bailed out and landed in Pakistan.

On ground in Pakistan, lives of the two pilots took a diametrically opposite turn. Sqn Leader Ahuja was killed in cold-blood by Pakistan Army troops on ground, making him the first IAF casualty of the Kargil conflict (May to July 1999). He was decorated with Vir Chakra, the third highest gallantry award. However, Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa was repatriated to India after a few days.

Twenty-five years after the incident, Sqn Leader Ahuja’s commanding officer Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa (retd) — who was a Group Captain during the Kargil conflict — today recollected, “Ahuja went beyond the call of duty. He sacrificed his life for his colleague Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa. Ahuja was trying to guide a helicopter to the crash site.”

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa, who retired in September 2019, said, “I was told that Nachiketa had been hit and Ahuja was heading towards the probable crash site. I rushed to the air traffic controller to call him back. Radio contact was not possible as Ahuja was already over Batalik.” Any radio contact would have given the jet’s position to Pakistan defenders.

The Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government had barred the Army and the IAF from crossing the LoC in evicting the Pakistan soldiers who had occupied peaks along the 168-km Himalayan ridgeline that forms the Mushkoh-Drass-Kargil-Batalik-Turtuk axis along the LoC.

On May 27, 1999, both the pilots who were shot down were from different squadrons, flying different planes but were sharing the ‘crew room’ at IAF base at Srinagar. Sqn Leader Ahuja was from 17 Squadron - the Golden Arrows –had been re-located from Bathinda while Ft Lieutenant Nachiketa was in the 9 Squadron– the Wolfpacks – relocated from Adampur, Punjab.

Group Captain Anupam Banerjee (retd) who was the lead pilot of the four-jet formation recollects: “we were tasked to bomb Munthodhalo along the LoC, Wing Commander Bhupendra Khatana, Group Captain Ashwani Mandokhot were followed by Nachiketa”. A formation like this has each jet separated by about 4 kms. Means by the time Pak-ground based missiles reacted, Nachiketa was in line of fire, other three pilots landed back at base.

About The Author

The Tribune News Service brings you the latest news, analysis and insights from the region, India and around the world. Follow the Tribune News Service for a wide-ranging coverage of events as they unfold, with perspective and clarity.

#Indian Air Force #Kargil #Pakistan


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