In rare act, Indian Air Force pilot winches up survivors at 17,000 ft in Sikkim

Ajay Banerjee

Tribune News Service

New Delhi June 3

In a daredevil act, an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot rescued a team of armed forces from an altitude of 17,000 feet by hovering his copter over the ground and winching up two persons.

The pilot, flying a Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-manufactured advanced light helicopter (ALH), did not have enough space to land due to soft snow and the rescue window due to the prevailing weather was narrow.

Sources said such a winching operation at 17,000 feet was rare and it was carried out in north Sikkim on May 8. Winching is done by sending down a specialised cable that is harnessed to the survivor on the ground, who is then winched up to the copter.

It all began on May 7 when an IAF Mi17V5 crashed in north Sikkim at a height of 17,000 feet where even the mid-May temperature hovers below the freezing level. All six on board, including the two pilots, miraculously survived. 

There was no option of a rescue as the weather was bad. 

Early on May 8, the ALH flown by Wing Commander Ajay Chauhan took off. Accompanying him were two Cheetah helicopters of the Army Aviation. The area had received fresh snow in the night and there were chances of reduced vision during the operation. The Cheetah, a single-engine copter, can carry less load than a twin-engined ALH. The two Cheetahs landed at a nearby place and evacuated four of the survivors. 

Two survivors still remained on the ground and had to be moved out immediately as there were chances of fresh snow. The ALH pilot analysed that the 2.5-tonne copter could not land at the site due to the soft snow and winching was the only option left. Displaying rare courage, the pilot carried out the operation was successfully.

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