CASEVAC These men in blues in their massive birds have done it time and again!
By: MS Nazki
The aim is just one and that is to save human lives come what may. These guys have done the improbable and saved people from places where none would have reached back home!
- In fact it would not be inappropriate to say that many of us owe their lives to them and their flying machines absolutely majestic in the skies.
*Casualty evacuation, also known as CASEVAC or by the call sign Dustoff or colloquially Dust Off (in American Air Force), is a military term for the emergency patient evacuation of casualties from a combat zone. But Indian army has extended the arm to civil authorities in rescue missions.
*CASEVACs by air today are almost exclusively done by helicopter, a practice begun on a small scale toward the end of World War II; before that, STOL aircraft, such as the Fieseler Fi 156 or Piper J-3 were used.
- When the two men take off they know that they are never alone when in air. The air itself supplies them with a century of love. When they breathe in, they are breathing in the laughter, tears, victories, passions, thoughts, memories, existence, joys, moments, and the hues of the sunlight on many tones of skin; they are breathing in the same air that was exhaled by many before them. The air that bore them life. And so how can they ever say that we are alone?
These guys have not done it once, they have done it time and again, rescued people and brought them back after they were in the wilderness, marooned or helpless not knowing whether tomorrow will come. Till the time Indian Air Force is there it will definitely. Some stories that will tell you as to what they are capable of:
I. The message:
A message about a Personal Rescue Beacon (PRB) being activated close to Pingtung La was received at the Regional Coordination Centre for rescue. The signal was coded for two German nationals trekking from Ringdum to Dibling. This message was relayed immediately to Western Air Command and the Siachen Pioneers Helicopter unit based at Leh was tasked to investigate. Since it was evening and weather in the region did not permit a launch, it was decided to get airborne at day break. Michael and his wife Annettee were trekking when they were caught in a blizzard. For two days incessant snowfall prevented any movement and by then the couples’ supplies had run out. Michael decided to activate his Personal Rescue beacon as a last resort. Two helicopters piloted by Wing Commander Dey and Wing Commander Pradhan of the Siachen pioneers got airborne at 0600 hrs today and headed in the probable direction of the PRB. On initial approach they could not find anything. They went back to where the footprints had started and worked our way backwards. A little ahead we found a grey protrusion which initially looked like a rock face, but on closer inspection found the edges to be flapping due to wind. Soon Michael came out of the tent, which the fliers thought was a rock and waved to them, recalls Wing Commander Dey. The site was on an incline of 35-45 degrees and we could not land the heptr. He held on a low hover and his co-pilot jumped out to ascertain that these were the people we were looking for and their medical condition. Both were able to move about, though the gentleman had developed frostbite. Co pilot picked up the lady and asked Wg Cdr Dey to come down and pick up the gentleman in a similar manner. Both on board they flew back safely to Leh!
II. The fire in Malviya Nagar New Delhi:
Around midnight a request was received at HQ Western Air Command for containing a fire at Malviya Nagar in Delhi. A MLH class helicopter airborne from Sarsawa did a recce and landed at Palam. Thereafter the helicopter got airborne with a Bambi Bucket to contain the fire. The helicopter filled water from Yamuna reservoir and dropped over the site thrice with approx. 8000 lts of water. The helicopter was flown by Wing Commander Pradeep Bhola of the Mighty Armours.
III. 5 June 2018: Israeli Nationals in trouble.
On 5 June, the ‘Himalayan Dragons’ based at Air Force Station Sarsawa were tasked to undertake a challenging casualty evacuation of 3 Israeli nationals whose vehicle had fallen down in a gorge on the way to Rohtang Pass. One Israeli succumbed to injuries. All 3 were evacuated in ALH MK III IAF helicopter from Kullu to Chandigarh, along with Israeli embassy official and Medical Officer.
IV. Rescue sortie to Bhadarwah:
Chetak Helicopter of Indian Air Force undertook a challenging evacuation of 2 lying casualties to Jammu from a location of 8800 Ft altitude, injured in a bus accident. One lady aged 23 years with pelvic and multiple fractures and one male aged 32 years with spinal trauma along with one attendant were evacuated. The third casualty along with the attendant was evacuated from the same place to Udhampur as the patient became convulsive enroute to Jammu.
V. 15 June 2018: Flood Relief Ops in Tripura:
Three Mi 17 helicopters of Indian Air Force undertook operations in flood affected areas of the state of Tripura, particularly in the town of Kailashahar. The helicopters are operated from 9km from Kailashahar and 4.1 tons of food and other essential supplies were delivered to the affected people in the area.
VI. Nanda Devi rescue mission.
IAF was tasked to undertake this mission on 27 Jun 19. Due to inclement weather, high altitude, undulating terrain & strong wind, which push the man & machine to their limits, the mission was finally executed after detailed reece & planning on 03 Jul 19. At first light two Cheetah helicopters of IAF got airborne for Camp 1 site of Nanda Devi Peak & recovered mortal remains of 07 Mountaineers in 04 shuttles from Munsiyari helipad to Camp 1.
VII. The Chanderkot mission:
On 24 Dec 18 at 1040 hrs Western Air Command of Indian Air force launched two Cheetah helicopters, of the Udhampur based unit Hovering Hawks to carry out casualty evacuation from Chanderkote helipad on a short notice. As per initial information received a civil bus on move from Budgam to Kanpur fell into the valley near Ramban which led to several critical casualties. At 1045 hrs, 02 heptrs and 02 set of crew were standby to takeoff from Udhampur to Chanderkote helipad where the casualties were initially evacuated. On getting a go ahead for one heptr at 1050 hrs, Wg Cdr V Mehta as captain with co-pilot Arunima Vidhate got airborne from Udhampur. Meanwhile after ascertaining the requirement, on the call of Wg Cdr V Mehta, second heptr got airborne from Udhampur with SqnLdr SK Prasad as captain and Flt Lt Siddhant Yadav as co-pilot. First heptr landed at Chanderkote Helipad at 1125 hrs and picked up 03 critically injured Jawans of ITBP who were amongst the 09 critically injured travelling in the fateful bus. The other heptr landed at 1225 hrs and picked 02 remaining critical Jawans along with a medical attendant. 04 Casualties were picked up by civil helicopter. “Due to the power station and several microwave towers on eastern side of the helipad, heptrs had to carry out one sided approaches and take offs with thorough traffic coordination with civil helicopters. Additionally, the site had limited maneuvering space, said the mission leader and captain of the lead aircraft Wg Cdr Vishal Mehta. Both the heptrs continued to Jammu airport, where the ambulance was ready to attend the casualty. The casualties suffered serious injuries which included facial/head injuries, fractured leg and major bruises on arms. Although they had been recovered from the accident site to Ramban DH their situation was highly critical and speedy evacuation to a better medical facility was the only life saving measure available. The crew of the Hovering Hawks executed the mission with extreme professionalism keeping up the highest traditions of the IAF.
VIII. IAF HADR and Casevac capability.
The speed at which the Indian Air Force (IAF) moved equipments, personnel and National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) teams in anticipation of Cyclone ‘Vayu’ in June 2019 and earlier after earthquake in Sikkim or Nepal, or floods in Uttarakhand had again and again highlighted its first responder capability. The world praised India for its remarkable response and described the country’s disaster management capabilities as sophisticated and advanced and greatly appreciated India playing a regional role.
- India’s handling of the devastating Uttarakhand flood and Category 5 super cyclone Phailin in Orissa in 2013 also won international praise. Extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani in Bay of Bengal in April 2019 required the move of around a million people to safer places. The death toll in such storms have greatly reduced because of proactive actions.
- Acquisition of Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and Lockheed Martin C-130-J to augment the existing fleet of Russian IL-76 and An-32 aircraft has given IAF global reach and heavy-lift capability. A large fleet of easily deployable helicopters makes India a great regional player for disaster management.
- Cyclone Vayu of 13 June 2019 was expected to generate gale winds of 145 kmph gusting to 160 kmph over Gujarat coast. IAF C-17s were used to airlift 154 NDRF personnel and their load from Patna to Jamnagar for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). One C-17 airlifted 152 NDRF personnel from Arakkonam and another lifted 160 personnel from Vijayawada. IAF helicopters were augmented and in place in various places in Gujarat. Cyclone Fani in April 2019 in the Bay of Bengal and earlier Cyclone Phailin in October 2013 in which 12 million people were affected. In both cases IAF’s transport aircraft and helicopter fleets flew round the clock on HADR missions.
- For three months, starting 18 June 2018, the IAF created an air-bridge between Pithoragarh and Gunji, to airlift 1080 registered passengers to Gunji to enable them to continue their journey for the coveted annual Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.
- On 14 September 2018, the IAF airlifted 55 tonnes of relief material to Bangladesh, which had witnessed a surge in Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar, using C-17 Globemaster strategic heavy lift cargo aircraft. Another C-17 aircraft followed with additional relief materials. When a 9.1 undersea earthquake on 26 December 2004 produced devastating Tsunami waves, as high as 65-100ft across the world, India became one of the 14 countries affected. The IAF swung into action. IL-76, AN-32s, AVRO, Do-228 and helicopters were all also pressed into service for the relief and rescue operations for Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The flash floods often dubbed as ‘Himalayan Tsunami’ which ravaged the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal in June 2013, saw some gallant and spirited rescue missions flown by IAF transport and helicopter fleet as part of ‘Op Rahat’.
- Every winter an air bridge is set by IAF between Jammu/Udhampur when heavy snow cuts off the Kashmir valley and Ladakh regions. IAF often helps Power Grid Corporation to re-erect towers and restore electricity in Kashmir during heavy snow when some HT towers fall. There are unending stories of support to the countrymen in distress. I thought why not relate a few to tell the readers what these sky men can do. Needless to mention they are absolutely amazing. When in distress, close your eyes and turn your face into the wind. Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation. Suddenly, you know you are alive. That is because the air knights have arrived with their roaring machines. On a rescue mission they have to pop their eyeballs out and sniff around, they know that they miss your fragrance, sometimes they miss it on the first run but trust me if you are stranded they will find you! They were yet at it today again. Displaying the highest level of civil-military cooperation they saved two precious lives who were critically injured in a road accident on Rajouri-Poonch road. On receipt of request from Divisional Commissioner Jammu, Air Commodore AS Pathania, Air Officer Commanding, Air Force station Jammu and his team exhibited highest standards of professionalism by quick launch of rescue mission and precise coordination making it successful and life saving for two injured civilians.
Today afternoon, Ghulam Qader, aged 40 years and Imtiaz Ahmed, aged 22 years were critically injured in a road accident on Rajouri-Poonch Road. On being requisitioned by the Civil Administration of J&K, defying bad weather, the mission of MI-17 Helicopter led by Squadron Leader Prem Pratik immediately took off from Jammu Air base and landed at Rajouri ALG site. The Civil Administration & Medical Services team of Govt of J&K helped the injured civilians to be shifted inside the helicopter. The critically injured civilians immediately flew back to Jammu for further treatment in Govt Medical College, Jammu. The overall ground air coordination for the entire rescue mission was done under Group Captain Sandeep Singh, the Chief Operations Officer of Jammu Air Base.
Highest level of civil-military cooperation, ground air coordination and cockpit resource management by all crew members made the mission a success. The mission and its execution was in line with the highest traditions of Indian Air Force and Helicopter Unit which once again lived up to their Motto ‘Count on Us’. Honestly speaking there is no other way out because they will dart from the skies anyhow! Just a matter of duty to the populace of the Nation.
The use of land, sea and air is common to all. But in armed forces each has a distinct role to enact. Security of the country is of prime importance and security of the people is the next step in the descending order. And our armed forces do it admirably well!