Naoroz Noshar Dadachanji and I were close pals for a long time. We were batch-mates at Begumpet for the 60th Pilot’s Course in Number 1 Air Force Academy. We both became Cadet Under Officers on the same day. Naturally we were commissioned on the same day too: 1 Apr 53. We were both sent into the fighter stream; therefore both of us did our fighter conversion on the Spitfire together at Hakimpet. From there we were sent to the same squadron, No,1 : The Tigers. Our twin fates remained intertwined even after this long stint together. After just over a year with the Tigers we were both sent to the Flying Instructors School for the 16th APFI (All Purpose Flying Instructors’) Course in Jan 1955. At the end of this course of instruction we were both sent to the newly re-named No1 Air Force College as flying instructors, and the officer i/c mess accommodation at the officers mess there ( I am sure quite accidentally ) found it convenient to allot a single room for us to share as our living quarters. Thus, in August 1955 we found ourselves to be room mates at the Thirumalgherry Air Force Officers Mess.
For our day to day work at the college however, this togetherness of ours was somewhat throttled. We were put into two different squadrons. I was placed under Squadron Leader Brian Stidston who was handling the 66th Pilot’s Course while Dada was placed under Squadron Leader ‘Punji’ Sarkar who was looking after the 68th Pilot’s Course. This little impediment however did not spoil our togetherness to any great extent. Of course the two squadrons worked in different shifts and normally we would have had hardly any chance to meet at work or laze around in the room at common times. But, I was a self confessed hog for flying and I quickly worked out a scheme where I could fly with the ‘other’ squadron on a regular basis. It was in fact quite easy to arrange. Flt Lt S K (Tangawala) Mitra needed a spot of leave but his Flight Commander (Flt Lt Meghashyama Dandekar) would not hear of it. Mitra had a full quota of four pupils to handle and he could not be given any leave without some arrangement being made for uninterrupted training of his pupils. I was asked – would I like to stand in for Tanga and look after his pupils while he goes on leave? Of course I said ‘Yes!’ and that was that.
Initially the two of us used bicycles to commute to the flight office every day. This arrangement could not unfortunately stand the test of time. Dada had no interest in flying with the other squadron. The cycle ride was therefore lonely for us at least for one journey a day. I also realized pretty soon the even though I was rather young at twenty one, flying three or four instructional trips from dawn to late afternoon was still pretty tiring; cycling back after such a day’s work was not an inviting task especially because the mess was more than 4 miles from the flight offices. Flt Lt Santosh K Jain (Thoshie) lived in a house close to the mess, he was an instructor working in Punji Sarkar’s squadron, he used a car to go to work, there was room in his car and he was willing to provide us a lift to work. Dada and I became his regular car buddies. Of course, for me this solved only half of my commuting problems. As I was flying with both the squadrons on a regular basis, my working hours were longer than the other guys. I came with the morning shift, carried a packed lunch and went home with the evening shift. So, for the journeys that did not match with Thoshie’s travels, I had to be alert and catch some one else to give me a lift. I was perhaps being a bit exploitive of others. But, I was the youngest instructor in the group by far and every one indulged me.
On one such morning I had travelled with Thoshie and Dada to work and had gone off for two sorties in a row. In Begumpet our usual style of operation was to take two pupils for a session (there being two sessions per day per squadron), brief both the cadets for their respective sorties, pick up parachutes and walk to the aircraft for the first sortie with the first pupil in tow. The second pupil used to wait for the instructor to come back after the first sortie at an earmarked ‘change over point’ on the shoulder of the runway with his parachute. At the end of the first sortie, the instructor would drop his first pupil off, pick up his second pupil and taxi out to the take off point from the change over point. The first pupil would of course have to walk back carrying his parachute on his back up to the pupil’s crew room.
I do not quite remember who the two pupils were on that particular morning; I used to fly with many different pupils in the 68th course, most regular being one group comprising Janak Kumar/Keith Lewis/Ranjit Bedi or another group comprising Pete Gaynor/Jaitley/Shelby/Ravi Kumar. (I am glad to report to my readers that all these gentlemen did rather well in their service lives!) In any case, on that morning as I came back to the instructor’s crew room, I found a lot of tension prevailing there. A few hushed queries revealed that in the first sortie, Dadachanji and Karam Singh had gone out for a mutual patter practice sortie. Actually the aircraft was due for an air test after a periodical 100 hours inspection. Karam Singh had been detailed to carryout the test. Dadachanji was not on the program. He had joined Kay (as Karam was called) to practice instructional techniques after the air test was done. They had not come back and were not responding to calls on the radio.
The flight commander came into the crew room and ordered me off on a search and locate sortie. The local flying area allotted to Karam and Dada was to the northwest of Begumpet some fifty or sixty miles from Begumpet. I along with another instructor went out looking for any obvious signs of an aircraft wreckage on the ground.
It took us some twenty five minutes to reach the top of the flying area. Then we started a search in the east-west direction progressively moving from north to south. After about an hour of search, we had covered only about half of the local flying area and it was time for us to go back to base to refuel the aircraft. In this process we got a call instructing us to proceed to the south west corner of the Nizam Sagar lake as there was a police report of a crash in that area. We were about 25 miles away from the spot indicated and we rushed there.
Initially, we could see nothing of any aircraft. Then a group of small boats clustered about a hundred meters from the southern shore attracted our attention. We flew over those boats and found them clustered around a yellow object sticking out of the water. It was the tail of a Harvard sticking out. It was clear that Karam and Dada had gone into the lake. Whether they had survived or not was something we could not determine at that stage. With a heavy heart we returned to the base.
The routine set of actions started. A rescue team was despatched. By the time the team reached the spot of the accident, local police had recovered two bodies from the sunken wreckage. The bodies were brought back to the military hospital at Secunderabad. A recovery team was despatched to the crash site to get the aircraft out of water and back to the flying College. One court of inquiry was constituted to decide why the accident had taken place. Two committees of adjustment were formed to take care of all assets and liabilities of the two deceased officers. I was made to head the committee of adjustment for Dada. I was his roommate and also his closest friend. Two funerals were organized and performed. Life, whatever that means, returned to normal.
The task facing the court of inquiry was difficult. It was quite easy to find out how the accident had taken place. The aircraft with its undercarriage down had come low over the water. By the accounts of witnesses, the engine of the aircraft appeared to be functioning normally. The aircraft had made a couple of passes. On the third low level pass, the wheels touched water and the aircraft had tipped over. The ‘how’ of the accident was thus easy to establish. The ‘reason why’ of the accident was however a different matter. The manoeuvres carried out by the pilots were unauthorised. It was not clear whether the act was pre-planned or was a random act of indiscretion. None of us knew if the two pilots had planned this act.
Prima facie, this was a clear case of indiscipline. At the same time, neither of the two pilots had shown any tendency towards indiscipline in their routine life. Both of them were quiet by nature. Both of them tended to be loners, with very few close friends. It was therefore difficult to ferret out what went on in their minds. Both of them were unmarried, had no female friend that we knew of, and were not into alcohol. Dada was almost a teetotaller limiting his appearance at the mess bar to the odd Sunday morning beer. Karam used to join his friends for an odd drink but was never seen to drink beyond very moderate levels. Neither of them had displayed any tendency to show off in the air in their routine business of flying fighter aircraft. To my mind, there was only one flaw that afflicted them both; neither of them were finding instructional flying to be interesting. However, both were inexperienced as instructors. We were fresh out of the FIS. Some of us, like Mel Woodfall and I, had taken to the new job with enthusiasm. However, there were many of us who fretted over their having had do come away from operational flying into the sedate world of instructional flying. It was an emotional matter that everyone thought would cure over time.
We were then young. We laughed loudly, we drank hard, and we loved stunt movies. We loved to give a glad eye to any pretty girl. As a young group anywhere in the world, we felt ourselves to be invincible. Sometimes, some of us also did silly thing on motor cycles or on aircraft trying to live dangerously. However, as a general routine we were not undisciplined.
A week or so before the accident to Dada and Karam, a small 8 mm strip of film was doing the rounds of the Bachelors quarters. It was a film about some Harvards of the US or Canadian Air Force flying low over water in formation with their undercarriages down and lightly touching the water surface like skiing over water. We saw it and were thrilled. Most of us also knew that to perform such tasks one would need rigorous training over lengthy periods which could only happen with the consent and authority of the powers that be. (A more modern video clip of similar nature is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeeAI1wTMiA). Almost all instructors had seen the clip. Is it possible that the basic frustration with instructional flying coupled with the fundamental lure of the young to live dangerously had trapped these two into their fatal misadventure?
Safety of military flights rest with the leader’s ability not only in the air but also in the emotional space that is the accumulation of desires and efforts of all the young men he leads. It is a challenge not easy to meet. The reason or the cause of an accident often reside in the minds and attitudes of the young men who fly the aircraft. Unless the leader is able to assume a personal presence in the minds of the pilots he leads, it will be difficult for him to avoid ‘Human Error’ accidents such as these.