The Prime Minister Crashes

Standard

Monday morning was a bit of a rush. Leena had to be taken to the Command Hospital for a biopsy. The earlier we could reach there, the better it would be for me. But which plan of a man or a mouse ever runs smoothly? Rashida Bai arrived late delaying my Breakfast. Shivji had to receive His special Monday-Morning Prayers from Leena and that could not be rushed. My being ready to move out by 9 am really served no purpose. Well… Being as old as I currently am, I have learnt many a trick to keep my cool under adverse circumstances. I was determined not to get irritated; I opened up the laptop and entered the internet. Kartooos had just posted a new entry in his blog. I opened it and was immersed in it immediately. The date of situation of his story was 4 Nov 77, a date I could never forget.

Like today, on that date too Leena was not feeling too well. It was very unlike her to not feel too well at that time. I was quite used to finding my better half a better keeper of her health than I was of mine. On that day however, she was running a high temperature. Virii have a free run in Delhi and no one is immune to their adventures. I had to readjust my morning schedule to see the children off to school and college, some thing that was not included in my daily routine. Fortunately, even with her temperature running above 102 degrees F, Leena had managed the breakfast / packed lunch for every one. There was enough food in the house to look after the lunch time needs of Leena. I decreed that she should be in bed for the whole day and make no attempt to cook anything for dinner. I had all intentions of coming back in good time and I will take charge of that operation, I told her. Then I went off to my office. I was then the Director of Flight Safety at Air HQ. I was a Group Captain of the Indian Air Force and my offices were in the Vayu Bhavan.

It was a cloudy day and it drizzled off an on. A Western Disturbance had just passed over the north and had travelled east. It was a huge one and its after-effects were still palpable. I managed to reach home back from the office by about six. The younger kids were already back from their schools and the eldest, Sutapa, returned from her college soon thereafter. I muddled through their dinner. Despite my instructions Leena had cooked dinner. The effort however had taken its toll. She was in bed with her temperature still uncomfortably high. The consumption of a few tablets of paracitamol had not been effective enough. I shoo’d the children to their home work and then closed down for the night early, by about nine thirty. Leena deserved some attention.

I had just dozed off when the telephone rang. I woke up with a start and looked at the clock. It was just about eleven at night. I stretched out my right palm to touch Leena’s forehead as I held the phone by my left hand and said ‘Hello…’. Leena was burning with fever. The call was from Air Vice Marshal S Jena. He, as the Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Flight Safety and Inspections) was my direct boss. He spoke slowly in his usual sombre tone. ‘The TU carrying the PM has crashed at Jorhat. The PM is safe but the captain and crew have perished. One Avro will leave Palam for Jorhat by One Thirty. Get on that plane, reach Jorhat and take charge of the inquiry. Some one with appropriate Rank to head the inquiry will reach Jorhat tomorrow. Call me in the morning.’ The instructions were precise and clear. I needed to move.

I found a thermometer and checked Leena’s temperature. It was over 102 degrees F closing on to 103. I needed to put cold compress on her forehead and plan for emergency medical intervention. I also had to leave for Jorhat without delay. I woke Sutapa up. Sukanya, the second girl, got up too. I put them on the task of putting cold compress on their mother’s forehead while I started getting ready for my Temporary Duty. In Delhi we had just gone into winter uniform, but Jorhat was perhaps still in Khakis? I was not quite sure. I put on my battle dress for the journey and packed two sets of khakis just in case. Pushing off on TD at a moments notice was nothing new, but for the previous 18 years my TD bags had always been packed by Leena. Since she was out of action for the moment, that simple job seemed full of hassle.

I needed to carry some money and also leave some money at home. Being just the 4th of the month, the bank balance was not in the red. I wrote out a cheque for house expenses and left it with Sutapa. At 17 years of age and being a college going student she was big enough to take charge of the household. I told her to just call a taxi and take her mother to the station sick quarters if the fever did not come down after the cold compress. The Station MT Section was unable to provide me with a transport. It was drizzling gently. I pulled on my rain repellent overcoat, pulled out my Lambretta and set off for the Race Cource Camp. The MT Section had by then found a jeep for me. I made the jeep follow me to Vayu Bhavan, parked my scooter in my slot, and went off to Palam in the jeep. By the time I reached the Comn Squadron it was almost one O’Clock.

One Avro and one IL-14 were being readied for the trip. I was directed to the IL-14. When we reached Jorhat it was a drizzly and dark seven thirty in the morning. Soon thereafter an Avro reached with Air Marshal D Subia on board. He had been tasked to conduct the court of inquiry.

Jorhat was the hub of transport operation in Assam. Even a very serious incident like the crashing of the Prime Minister did not interrupt its routine operations. There was a constant stream of loads arriving and being loaded into aircraft, loaded aircraft taking off, and then after an hour and half or two, unloaded aircraft returning for another round of the same. In assam the day starts early. People arrived for work at four in the morning. By another half an hour the sky becomes light. By the time I landed there at 0730 on that morning the day was already three hours old and the first wave of aircraft were about to return.

I met Air Marshal Subia and listened in as he was briefed by the station commander and the station flight safety officer. With the arrival of the air marshal and his taking charge of the inquiry, I had no administrative tasks left. I could then look into the accident with a detached view and determine what we could learn from the unfortunate happenings. I hung around for a while, talked to the people who were on duty during the night at the air traffic control and had my breakfast with the crew of transport aircraft returning after their first drop. By about nine in the morning I managed to get hold of a helicopter to take me to the crash site. It was not easy to reach the crash-site by road; there was no road to the site even from the nearest village Takelagaon. By this time, I had gathered the outline of the incident from the local people to the extent possible.

The prime Minister was on a planned visit to the North Eastern states for about a week. It seemed to be a political visit, though some administrative function must have been attached to the visit to make the use of a Service aircraft legal. The PM was accompanied by his son Sri Kanti Bhai Desai, the director of IB Sri John Lobo and the Chief Minister of Arunachal Sri PK Thungan.

The PM had travelled by a TU124 aircraft operated by the Air HQ Commn Squadron, popularly known as the VIP Squadron. This squadron was manned by the most highly qualified crew that the air force could make available at any given time. The Tu124 was a twin engined aircraft made by the Tupolov Design Beauro of Russia. It was derived from the well known TU104 aircrft which was the second jet powered airliner produced in the world. It was developed out of a Soviet Bomber the TU16. The TU104 was very extensively used in the USSR and other east European countries. The Indian Air Force also used a few of them as VIP transport aircraft. After the TU104 were retired, they were replaced by it’s derivative the TU124. Actually, Tupolov had produced three Tu124 aircraft in a VIP configuration for the Russian Air Force. For some reason that I do not know, these aircraft, known as TU124K, were not inducted into the Russian Air Force but were sold to India for their use in our VIP role. We allotted tail numbers V642, V643 and V644 to these aircraft.

For this trip of the Prime Minister, the flight crew was headed by Wing Commander Clarence Joseph D’Lima. His Co-Pilot was Squadron Leader Mathew Cyriac. Wing Commander Joginder Singh was the Navigator on board. Sqn Ldr VVS Sankar, Flt Lt P K Raveendran and Flt Lt OP Arora were the other officer members of the crew. There were a few members of the crew who were not commissioned officers. Amongst them was a person named Corporal KN Upadhyay. The aircraft chosen was TU124 V643. This aircraft had been named ‘Pushpak Rath’. The name was painted on the side of the fuselage.

In the seventies, the flying environment in the eastern part of the country was meager. It was therefore a standard practice to end routine operations by day light hours. One must also remember that in winter sun sets pretty early in Assam. Jorhat at that time did not have an electrical flare path for night operations. If night operations became necessary then gooseneck flares had to be laid. For the uninitiated I need to explain what a gooseneck flare is. It is a large metal kettle with a long spout. The kettle is filled with kerosene. A thick wick is inserted through the long spout. These kettles are then laid along the edge of a runway at regular intervals in pairs, one flare on each side. A pilot has to align his aircraft with the runway with the help of this flare-path, come over the thresh hold, judge the height of the aircraft by looking at these flares and land. It is not an easy task. The standard operating procedure therefore advised planned landings in the valley to be completed befor 1600 hours ( 4.00 PM.). The prime minister was of course a busy man. He could take off only by 5 PM from Palam. By the time he arrived over Jorhat it was past seven in the evening. The night at Jorhat was already three hours old by then. A night landing on a gooseneck flare lit runway at Jorhat was inevitable. It was not a happy situation.

Weather over northern India had been foul for the previous few days. It was very clear from the Met forecasts that Eastern India will be full of medium and low clouds. It was obvious that visual navigation and terminal operations would be difficult. The TU124 was equipped with an Instrument Landing System. Jorhat unfortunately did not have the corresponding ground environment installed. The Pushpak Rath could not attempt an Instrument Approach and Landing. The approach and landing at Jorhat would have to be visually and manually carried out. This was something known to the flight crew. The cloud base over Jorhat was expected to be 800 to 1000 feet above ground. The highly qualified crew was expected to cope with this very challenging task.

One of the weaknesses of the TU104 was it’s inadequate range because of it’s turbojet engines. This problem was somewhat mitigated in the TU124 by replacing the turbojet engines with turbofan engines. However, those were early days of turbofan technology in the USSR and the improvement was not very pronounced. The fuel consumption in a gas turbine engine increases at low level. It was therefore necessary for the TU 124 aircraft to plan it’s long distance trips at high altitude. For this trip the flight plan demanded that from Palam the aircraft was to climb to its cruising altitude and hold that altitude up to Bagdogra. At Bagdogra the the captain was to decide whether the weather was fit to commence his descent. If it was not fit then the aircraft would divert to Dumdum, which was the only fully equipped airfield available with ILS and all other aids. Once the aircraft chose to descend from its cruising altitude into the Assam valley, it was committed for a termination there. It did not have enough fuel to climb back, do a dogleg via Bagdogra to avoid overflying Bangladesh, and reach Calcutta.

The helicopter dropped me quite close to the wreckage of the crashed aircraft. A small party from the air force station was guarding the wreckage. The aircraft was more or less in one piece. the lower portion of the nose section had been ripped apart by a tree that was about 1300 meters behind the aircraft now resting in a field of rice paddy in a clearance barely the size of two or three times the length of the aircraft. This clearance was hedged by a large plantation of bamboo bushes. Beyond the bamboo plantation there was some open degraded forest land with a large babool tree, the same tree that had ripped the aircraft apart. Locations along the flight path where bodies of the crew had fallen were marked out with stones twigs and pieces of cloth. There were five such markings for the five brave souls.

There was nothing that I could achieve at the crash site. The helicopter was waiting for me. I went back to the Air Force Station. I was keen to put the whole story together in my mind independent of the court of inquiry that was now in progress. As I went about building that story, a number of questions popped up in my mind.

The PM took off at 5 pm. – Was he advised that it was not safe to attempt a night landing at Jorhat in a TU124 in inclement weather?

About a hundred minutes later it was time for the captain to decide whether to descend into the Brahmaputra Valley or to divert to Calcutta. He decided on the former even though he knew that weather over destination was not good. – What made him take such a decision?

Weather over Jorhat was marginal but Jorhat approach did not decline the arrival of the VIP aircraft. – Why did they not decline? Were they aware of the fact that the aircraft would be unable to divert elsewhere once it descended?

I was unable to find answers to these questions from the information available with me at that time.

On the way down from his cruising altitude, Wing Commander D’Lima could use the Medium Frequency Beacon (MF Beacon a.k.a. the NDB) and could also use the Very High Frequency Direction Finder (VHF D/F) located at Jorhat. These instruments would tell him the direction of Jorhat relative to his aircraft. He however had no instrument to tell him his distance from the airfield ( his DME being inoperative in the absence of the ground component at Jorhat). He also had no other instrument to help him align the aircraft with the runway (such as an inner and an outer marker beacon). However, he had a very capable navigator on board. With his help he came over the airfield and broke cloud to have visual contact. Unfortunately, he found himself slightly offset from the runway, slightly high and slightly close to the runway for a comfortable approach. He decided not to attempt a direct approach and landing from that imperfect position.

In a fast moving aircraft at low level in bad weather at night the runway disappears pretty quickly below the aircraft. Clarence D’Lima had aligned with the runway quickly when he had sighted it. Holding his direction he descended below the fragmented cloud layer, noted the time and decided to carry out a procedure known as a ‘Timed Circuit’ . In this procedure, an aircraft aligned with a landing runway goes out level for a fixed time in the landing/take-off direction. Then the pilot turns the aircraft through 90 degrees and flies for a fixed time. The aircraft is then turned through anther 90 degrees bringing it parallel to the runway flying in a direction opposite to the direction of landing. The flight is timed to take the aircraft sufficiently far from the runway for it to execute two more 90 degree turns with appropriate time gap and align itself with the runway once again for an approach and landing. Clarence D’lima carried this procedure out competently and found himself aligned with the runway. However, the winds were perhaps stronger than expected at the height the aircraft was flying this pattern; he had been pushed further away from the runway than what he had expected. He had to fly level for some time before he could start a descent for the approach. At that low altitude and low speed, with the undercarriage and flaps extended, and at the attitude for a level flight, the forward visibility was restricted. Because of a critical oversight, the two altemeters (for the pilot and copilot) had not been reset. Judgement of height over ground became impaired with this incorrect altimeter setting. Darknes of the cloud covered night and the slight drizzle experienced off and on did not help.

At some stage, a descent on the approach was commenced. The aircraft was lower than what it was perceived to be. In the dark night, a tall keekar tree standing on the path was not seen. The tree ripped open the bottom part of the aircraft along the left side of the fuselage.

Clarence was the first to go. Bottom fell out of his captains’ seat. He fell about 50 mtrs after the tree. Joginder was the next. Mathew, Shankar and Arora fell in a bunch after that. These five were dead on impact with the ground and lay strewn over 900 meters along the path of the aircraft. Raveendran had just moved back from the cockpit area to the rear compartment at the beginning of the approach and was unharmed. Mr Morarji Desai was sitting on his special couch along the right side of the fuselage. His son Kantibhai was in the same VIP compartment. Kantibhai’s seat was on the left. As Raveendran passed through the VIP compartment to the rear compartment, Mr Kantibhai got up and moved to the right of the aircraft. No one knows why he moved, but the move saved his life. His chair on the left was ripped out. Sri Lobo and Sri Thungon were in the staff compartment behind the VIP enclosure. Their seats were on the right side of the fuselage. They were unharmed. In the rear compartment, Raveendran, and the non-commissioned members of the crew were unharmed except for Corporal Upadhyay who was somewhat injured.

The aircraft was still airborne, though it was in a descending path. As it came to a height of about seventy feet it arrived over a very large patch of cultivated bamboo. This patch of bamboo was almost fully grown and mature. As the aircraft descended into the patch, the bamboos acted as a spring loaded cushion. It arrested its downward acceleration, slowed it down and allowed the aircraft to slide safely and softly on to the adjoining field of rice paddy. The aircraft slid over the mud for a short distance. Both engines died through dirt ingestion. The aircraft stopped, still heading towards the runway that it will now not reach.

Inside the aircraft darkness descended. None of the passengers realized what had happened to them and how lucky they were to be alive. Flight Lieutenant Ravindran and Corporal Upadhyay were the first two to react. They threw the doors open and started evacuating the passengers now dazed by the occurrence. Once all the personnel inside the aircraft were taken out, the duo walked through mud and slush to head for the airfield. The flying control was a little more than four kilometers away. At the station it was known that the aircraft has crashed, but no one knew about the fate of the passengers. Search parties waere in the process of being sent out. Raveendran and Upadhyay informed the station authorities about the crash, the sad demise of the crew and the miraculous escape of the Very Important Passengers. The station now reacted fast. The PM and the other VIPs were retrieved and taken care of. All the crew that were alive were also taken care of. Routine investigative process for the accident began.

I found Air Marshal Subia on the station. He had begun the inquiry with rightful urgency. I had no functional role at the station any more. A Dakota dropped me at Guwahati. I took a civil flight back home. From Palam I took a taxi to the Air HQ. My Lambretta was still parked in its slot. I reached home to find Leena on her feet running about the house. Obviously she had won her battle against the virus. I gave her a smile and a hug and received a smile and a thalee of hot dinner in return.

Post Script:

Some of my readers might ask me if I had found the answers to the questions that had arisen in my mind at Jorhat. Well, all I can say is that Air Marshall Subia had addressed all those questions thoroughly and competently in his inquiry. I see no reason for rehashing them once again in a public forum 34 years after the event.

PPS:

My reverie over the memories of 4 Nov 77 was broken when I found Leena ready to proceed to the Command Hospital Airforce Bangalore for her biopsy. We went there and the biopsy turned out to be benign. So, all is well.

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40 responses »

  1. “I see no reason for rehashing them once again in a public forum 34 years after the event.” But sir, its now 34 years, and it really shouldn’t matter. When exactly is it safe to ‘rehash’ these answers? 50 years? 100? who will be around then? people will still be guessing and coming up with fictional explanations then..

    • I was in 1th class of my schooling when this occurred. So, am extremely pleased to read about it. For some reason, this has had a lasting impact on my mind and I believe this would be a great subject for a feature length movie.

      I have been asking around and looking for more details about this. Wondering if there’s anyone who can connect me with the relatives of all the IAF personnel who were on this ill-fated flight so that proper research for a movie based on this even can begin with right earnest.

  2. Dear Jagan,
    I will try to answer your question.I am absolutely certain that
    our urine drinking prime minister had no understanding of flight safety and its processes.He must have bullied the
    captain to go ahead with jorhat landing.
    Why air force authority allowed the aircraft to take off from Palam at 0500pm is beyond my comprehension?
    Our air force has very poor safety record.
    Our inability to say “No” to higher up may be one of the reason for poor safety record.
    Urine drinking and safety procedure do not hand in hand.
    These are harsh words but true.
    Regards

    • Pradip: To put the record straight, Sri Morarji Desai DID NOT Bully Clarance D’Silva. On a point of assertion, personal habits and beliefs of Sri Moraji had no bearing on the accident. Therefore, his practice and advocacy or otherwise of urine drinking is not material to my story. It is easy to sling mud on public figures, but a professional would not resort to such a practice.

      Jagan. My hesitation in rehashing this incident stems from the fact that I am operating entirely out of my memory, with no personal notes or access to records to help me. If such a serious accident is to be re-examined, I would not dare attempt that task without full access to all the documents. I do retain some facts in my memory, but if I have to critique the performance of any individual (who is perhaps dead and gone), I would not operate off my memory. I will insist on fresh access to documents.

      TKS

  3. Sir,
    I shall reword my comment with A PM who does not keep his
    promise with a PM who drinks urine.
    I shall reproduce a small news cippling dated 2003.
    SAMUDRA GUPTA KASHYAP Posted: Apr 03, 2003 at 0000 hrs IST GUWAHATI, APRIL 2:

    For Indreswar Baruah, a former school teacher of the obscure Tekelagaon village near Jorhat in Upper Assam, it has been a long wait of 26 years. But his perseverance has
    paid good dividends.
    Baruah had literally saved the then prime minister Morarji Desai’s life after the latter’s plane had crash-landed in a bamboo grove behind his house on the cold wintry night of November 4, 1977 after it failed to land despite several attempts by the Indian Air Force base at Jorhat.
    While Desai had promised a lot of benefits to the village as a whole, things simply did not get a move on until the present Jorhat Deputy Commissioner Ravi Kota dug out the file and followed it up in the Prime Minister’s Office.
    The PMO had decided, last week, to send Baruah a sum of Rs 1.5 lakh, which was finally handed over to him yesterday by the Deputy Commissioner.
    In the crash, while five crew members including the pilots of the aircraft, gifted to the Indian prime minister by the then USSR government, had died on the spot, Desai, along with his son Kantibhai Desai, the then Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Khandu Thungon and six others had a miraculous escape.
    After Baruah rescued Desai, he was administered first aid while Baruah’s mother offered Desai a glass of milk and bananas. Desai spent over three hours in Baruah’s house until a village youth rushed to the nearest police outpost to inform about the incident and a rescue team arrived at Tekelagaon.
    Desai was then rushed to the Jorhat Civil Hospital where he spent the night to fly back by a special aircraft the next morning to New Delhi.
    Impressed by the courage and dedication with which Baruah handled the situation, the government had announced establishment of a post office at Tekelagaon and constructing a pucca road to it. But none of it has come through in the past quarter of a century.
    In my next discussion i shall reproduce Air Marshal D.Subaiah’s brief finding and all the non conformities happened.
    I stand by my comment i made earlier.
    Regards

    • My dear Pradip

      I have read the piece of journalism put out by Sri Samudra Gupta Kashyap and printed by the Indian Express. I unfortunately do not find any connection with this piece and the accident to V643 except anecdotal reference. Sri Indreswar Barua arrives on the scene after the accident. He claims to have ‘literally saved’ the PM’s life, which we know is utter nonsense; the PM was evacuated from the aircraft by Flt Lt Raveendran. The PM was not injured. He did not need any one’s help to save his life. I do know that some one from the village had brought a charpoy to the crash site for the PM to sit and rest. It is possible that he was offered milk and banana by some one. It is possible that some one from the village presented a wish list to the PM taking the advantage of his unexpected presence. It is possible that PM may have made some helpful promises that took 23 years to fructify. But all that has no bearing on the accident.

      Sri Samudra Gupta makes some more incorrect assertions related to the accident such as the aircraft having made ‘repeated attempts to land ‘ which we know to be fanciful. He also says that ‘the government’ made promises to provide a post office and a road connection. You however seem to insinuate that these promises were made by the urine drinking prime minister and that those were not fulfilled for the next quarter of a century. I would like to request you to please isolate your distaste for the deceased prime minister from our personal reexamination of a military flight accident of many years ago.

      Thank you.

      • While going through my collecton of newsreports I found one eye-witness account written by Mr. N V R Swami, a passenger on the ac (a correspondent of ‘Samachar’). By his account it does appear that the PM did walk about half a km to Tetalgaon village (and another report confirms that he was airlifted from there). So there is an element of truth in the report.

        It is interesting that other newspaper reports from the time had started second guessing the cause for the accident right from the next day.

  4. Dear Jagan,
    This is the synopsis of Air Marshall D Subaiah’s court of enquiry report.
    The ATC’s last message at 7.42 P.M. showed the Tu-124 almost in line with the runway. The plane had descended to dangerously low levels, with the result that it hit trees as it approached the runway,” reported the court of inquiry headed by Air Marshall D Subaiah, which went into the reasons of the crash. “The aircraft did not land at first as it was slightly high and not fully aligned with the runway and in the second approach the pilot planned to carry out a ‘timed circuit’ landing,” it said

    • Thank you Pradip.

      The lack of ‘official’ information tends to encourage anecdotal stories and reports – Hence my earlier reques to TKS sir earlier that at some point we should tell the information as we know it . I fully understand TKS Sir’s position to not comment on the incident without access to the official papers at this point.

      To illustrate how anecdotal stories tend to sprout up – here is a report published on the 25th anniversary of the crash. (The author of the report may be related to one of the crew members )

      “When the Tu 124 jet, V 643 Pushpak, crash landed at Jorhat in Assam some two-and-a-hours after taking off at 5.03 P.M. from Palam Air Force station, the five pilots had ensured that all the passengers escaped with mere bruises and scratches without caring for their lives. The five skilled fliers nose landed the aircraft in a paddy field in Tetlagon village wherein the cockpit took the maximum impact leaving the rear part safe.”

      I cannot find the full news report but another gentleman copied that report and another excerpt from the parliamentary proceedings here
      http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1179931 (Disclaimer: CuriousJM is NOT me!)

      When there was talk about the IAF ‘not recognising heroes’ I had to set the record straight to the original poster – thus the subsequent addenda to the thread..

      • hello Jagan. i came across this article while searching on the net. do you have a collection of articles from the crash? you refer to an article by my father (NVR Swami). i have shown him this piece and he is very interested (as I am) in getting hold of some recollections from the incident. many thanks…. Ravi

      • Dear tkstales and jagan, I would like to contact you offline to research more about this incident.

  5. Sir Jee, I was a little kid then but old enough to remember people discussing that PM survived and there was some kind of conspiracy(very usual in those days).

    One thing that seems very odd is that a VIP flight was allowed in a fixed wing plane to go to airport with no ILS or even an NDB(though Bardogra would have a radio station that NDB could pick).
    Though in a stuation like this where ceiling is 600′ AGL only ILS with Glide Scope could have guided the track.

    Why did they not consider a Helicopter from Calcutta, probably would have been safer?

  6. Air Cmde TKS has tickled our Memory. Clarence D’lima was my Squadron mate in NDA, 14th Course and I was from the 11th Course. A very dear friend I still Grieve. A fine officer, thorough gentleman, regarded as very cool as cucumber in any Emergency besides being an Exceptional Flyer. Air Cmde has given details that amazes me with his memory. Having served with him as a SI in the Staff College ( 2 I/C), I must say he continues to have the same strength.

    I knew Joginder also well, an exceptional Navigator, cool and unflappable guy. I am sure his assistance in homing on to the airfield, aligning with the Runway and particularly doing Time Circuit was much valuable to the Pilot. But Fate was their Hunter in the form of a lone tree in the approach path that took their lives.

    Pheobe was Clarence Dlima’s wife. She is Nobby Misquita’s sister ( from Fighter Stream) and Nobby was my course mate and from the same squadron in NDA. For years she did not believe that Clary was no more and in fact I was told that Clary’s uniform used to hang outside for him to wear next morning after many years after his death. Most wonderful couple they were. They had a little son named Gavin . As I write this Note my eyes are wet and dripping as I feel for him even today, since we grew up together in the Air Force. May the Almighty Bless their souls, the crash victims.

    Air Cmde is talking about the kerosene lit Goose necks. Our Pilots were well trained to cope with that system during night flying. In fact late Sqn Ldr Desmond Pushong Vr C, landed at Rajouri with just four Goose neck flares at night during Kashmir Ops. He saved that airfield. He got a Vr C for it and Later he went to Air India. Against that back drop, the Air Force now is getting state of art, cutting edge of technology infrastructure for most airfields where transport aircraft are going to fly. Three and half decades has elapsed and it is worth it. I remember I wrote about Cat ii and Cat iii requirements contending that we do not need them at Air Force Airfields. Who could have imagined such a debate?

    Thank you Tikku Sir, for recalling this accident so vividly that we remember those friends who lost their lives in the Service to the Nations and Young AF officers of this generation are proud that as the History of the Air Force is written and the fallen heroes are saluted, remembered for their skills and bravery.

    With Regards, HMS.

    • Sir

      I was in 11th class of my schooling when this occurred. For some reason, this has had a lasting impact on my mind and I believe this would be a great subject for a feature length movie.

      I have been asking around and looking for more details about this. Wondering if there’s anyone who can connect me with the relatives of all the IAF personnel who were on this ill-fated flight so that proper research for a movie based on this even can begin with right earnest.

  7. Dear Jagan & Saravjit,
    I am treating Sir’s write up as a beautiful and authentic case study on safety management.The write up has authentic data base and impartial narration.Sarvjit has also doubt on decesion making process to allow the flight to take place with so many non-conformities.
    Taking this data base and other information i have started working on Failure mode and effect analysis.
    Hope this analysis will address many unanswered questions.
    Regards

  8. Sir,
    Before I embark upon FME analysis, let me clear the ground by giving clarity to some of the concepts I shall be using. It will help readers from non corporate background to comprehend the magnitude of the problem and easy understanding. Following are few concepts definitions.
    • What is Air safety
    • What is nonconformity
    • What is FMEA
    What is Air afety:
    Air safety is a term encompassing the theory, investigation and categorization of flight failures, and the prevention of such failures through regulation, education and training. It can also be applied in the context of campaigns that inform the public as to the safety of air travel
    think as a general rule, all the airlines strive for perfection when flying their planes. If there is a statistical probability that they will have an accident, then they take steps to eliminate the deviations
    think as a general rule, all the airlines strive for perfection when flying their planes. If there is a statistical probability that they will have an accident, then they take steps to eliminate the deviations
    What is nonconformity:
    In quality management, nonconformity (also known as a defect) is a deviation from a specification, a standard, or an expectation. Nonconformities are classified as either critical, major, or minor.[1]
    ISO distinguishes between a defect and nonconformity, a defect being the nonfulfilment of intended usage requirements, whereas nonconformity is the nonfulfilment of a requirement. A similar distinction is made between validation and verification
    Critical nonconformity – Any nonconformity which may result in hazardous or unsafe conditions for individuals using, maintaining or depending upon the product or prevent performance of a vital agency mission.
    What is Failure Mode Effect Analysis:
    Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) is a step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in a design, a manufacturing or assembly process, or a product or service.
    “Failure modes” means the ways, or modes, in which something might fail. Failures are any errors or defects, especially ones that affect the customer, and can be potential or actual.
    “Effects analysis” refers to studying the consequences of those failures.
    Failures are prioritized according to how serious their consequences are, how frequently they occur and how easily they can be detected. The purpose of the FMEA is to take actions to eliminate or reduce failures, starting with the highest-priority ones.
    Failure modes and effects analysis also documents current knowledge and actions about the risks of failures, for use in continuous improvement. FMEA is used during design to prevent failures. Later it’s used for control, before and during ongoing operation of the process. Ideally, FMEA begins during the earliest conceptual stages of design and continues throughout the life of the product or service.
    Begun in the 1940s by the U.S. military, FMEA was further developed by the aerospace and automotive industries. Several industries maintain formal FMEA standards.
    What follows is an overview and reference. Before undertaking an FMEA process, learn more about
    standards and specific methods in your organization and industry through other references and training.
    Note: These are all standard definitions available in Wikipedia.
    Now it will be easy to connect with the readers of your blog.
    In next seven days I will present the analysis and exonerate myself from the charge of mudslinging.
    Regards.

    • Dear Pradip,

      I read your Failure, Model and Effect (FME) proposed suggestion, connecting it to the TU aircraft at Jorhat. When the full data not being available or scanty data availability this is perhaps one way to search for the possible answers. and thus we should be looking forward to your analysis.

      I have operated at the Jorhat airfield in DC3. We operated during monsoons, in the hills, and during summer when the visibility goes down due to dust raising winds. We get to connect land features in and around the airfield during landing etc when the ILS was not available. It is not true that there was no NDB. If I could bank on my memory, it had the Max power in the valley and thus as soon as we crossed Bagdogra, we used to pick up Jorhat NDB signals. It is a different matter when due to inclement weather or descending to lower altitudes one may not get the correct signals from the Non Directional Beacon. Clarence had flown in the valley extensively in his young days.

      I am aware of VIP’s forcing the pilots to continue operating during bad weather even in Helicopters, when these platforms are hired commercially; my experience in civil aviation. But in the Air Force this is not the case in the operation of VIP squadron and its flights particularly when the PM is involved. A decision to undertake flight or otherwise, is done with the full knowledge of the weather en route and at destination, with due deference to the fuel availability to divert to another base in case of emergency. Surely Dlima/ Joginder would have had these data while doing flight planning. The problem at Jorhat being the weather clamps down without warning, like in this case possibly.

      Consequent to this accident, the Station Commander flew with PM like in this case with Mrs Gandhi when she flew in Hyderabad area for her political activities. I used to accompany her while I was the Station Commander from 80 to 84 at Begumpet, Hyd. Her flights were all in the helicopters and while the Pilot felt that he could not make it to the designated destination, due to weather he used to tell me and While briefing Mrs Gandhi she did ask intricate questions about weather or its improvement, analysis of synoptic charts ( she was well versed), never once did she force a flight or landing any where when advised otherwise. I do believe as Air Cme, the author of this article has stated that there was no compulsion from the PM in the TU accident as well. To the best of my knowledge after working with the Dte of Transport & Maritime, the Air HQ’s were very specific to politely decline flights involving VIP Squadron when such a situation arose.

      Air Vice Marshal Hamid Shahul,
      Former Chairman,
      Airports Authority of India.

  9. Sir,
    I remember my father talking about this crash too. He had 3 tenures in Jorhat – as a Plt Offr with 11 Sqn/43 Sqn, then with 43 Sqn as Flight Commander and then as Station Commander. So he was very familiar with the operating environment.

    He was highly critical of the pilot for even attempting a landing – adding that he was trying a Dakota type landing in a swept wing jet. He believed that the pilot did not take into account the high sink rate that a swept wing jet could develop in a slow speed high rate turn near the ground.

    He wasn’t very enamored of the status accorded to Comm Sqn pilots in the military transport force. (And as Air Marshal Shahul knows well – he wasn’t shy about letting people know that!). He believed it took two different personality types to be a tactical transport pilot (who he believed was as much a combat pilot as a fighter pilot) and a VIP/airline type flyer who was not supposed to be a combatant.

    The tragedy was that someone with the experience / judgement / values of a combat pilot was making decisions that someone with the experience/judgement/values of a airline pilot should have been making. An airline pilot has a set of procedures within which they operate, with good reason. If the crew had internalized those behavior patterns, then they would have not descended into the valley in the first place. But instead we had a pilot transferring his knowledge meant for combat operations (a night visual timed circuit in bad weather in a swept wing jet on a marginal runway!) to a VIP flight. I doubt he had even practiced that procedure even a single time in the Tu-124. He may have lulled into thinking he could do it because he had done it in Dakotas/Packets/IL-14s which were fundamentally different flying machines.

    As an illustration here are two instances my father said he was not going to act as a combat pilot but as an airline pilot (and those who know my father know he was not above taking on a mission when others would hesitate).
    1. He was captain of the “nosey” Dakota with 10 Squadron with night fighters. The Dakota had a radar and would chase a Harvard target while being guided by trainee navigators (upto 5 of them with an instructor). There was a cloud layer above Palam, and the Dakota used to take off before the Harvard because it had a lot more fuel. In an effort to have an efficient join up, the flight commander of 10 Squadron told my father that he should descend through the cloud layer and then sight the Harvard. My father (as a Fg Offr with 2 years service!) refused outright saying he would not descend into a overcast blindly with another aircraft in the vicinity. A lot of pressure was put on him to be flexible, but he stood his ground and refused to put his passengers at risk with a maneuver like that. I believe the Harvard did some IF to come above the overcast for that sortie!
    2. While landing at Gauhati in the Super Connie, he would descend over the river even if the winds did not favor a descent from that side. This gave him adequate room to maneuver, since the other side was mountainous terrain. The wisdom of this maneuver was brought home by the crash of Vayudoot Fokker Friendship which crashed into the hills while trying to maneuver for landing – and the captain was an ex-IAF pilot.

    I point this out because as a part-time pilot flying in the challenging weather in the Pacific Northwest, I use the wisdom he imparted to make decisions. I assess the risk first, look for risk mitigation and if I can’t find one or have doubts about my proficiency in a maneuver in the type of aircraft I am flying – I stay home.

    Hopefully these lessons are imparted to IAF pilots, and instead of sullying the memory of the pilots/crew by making false claims about “bravery”, passes on the lessons they learned to the new generation. That would be a fitting legacy.

    Anandeep Pannu

  10. Sir (AVM Hamid Sahul),
    I am working on a simple hypothesis i.e “PM or PM’s office was
    resposible for this accident”.Now it is my duty to substantiate
    and validate this statement.At the end of the process i may
    be right or wrong.
    The intent of this case study is not fault finding.A case study tries to ascertain three objectives.A.What went right.B.What wenr wrong.C.What could have been better?
    A sucessul case study is always participative.Assimilation of primary and secondary data,circumstancial evidences,input and opinion of go in to processes and than using right technique and tools derive a possible answer.
    All your inputs will go into data base analysis and interpretation.I am sure you will find it very interesting.

    • Pradip you are most welcome to assume, what ever is right for the Hypothesis. But I feel that we must keep the real issues in mind. So for the sake of clarity I have just given a process that goes to commence the flight. in the first instance the PM’s office
      does not get involved with the flight except to tell the requirements of the PM to the Air HQ, who in turn would have informed the Com Sqn, and to the crew. The aircraft having taken off, would have visualized certain criteria that with in next hour or so the weather would clear going by the synoptic charts. Please remember those days we did not have Satellite forecasts. Just to contend with Millibaric charts.We are not talking about route weather and we are concerned with the terminal and the aerodrome forecast. Many things now could be said, DME, Locators and ILS could have saved the situation. But it was not to be and thus we had to contend with the Equipment on board, crew training and possible weather clearing.

      Anandeep, TU was an advance jet transport aircraft. I am talking of that period. The training and the follow up as a requirements of HQ Communication Squadron were far too stringent, and it may not be appropriate to even point a finger towards the Pilot’s capability. You will agree with me that accident do not require a reason to happen but they just happen and we reconstruct the whole process if is Fatal and arrive at some possible conjectures. Why did he descend so early, causing excess of fuel expenditure etc the crew alone would have answered. Frankly I agree, one does not normally resort to time circuit in jets but being a method available one does try, since the speeds were low and those days DME, ILS, Locators and Fan Markers, were just luxury to talk about. We had to contend with what we had?

      Just imagine as to how your Dad ( May the Almighty Bless his soul) with some very able Navigators established requisite patterns for the Night Fighter Squadrons. No one would believe it. The Air Force came through many innovative and difficult conditions to achieve the results with given Infrastructure.

      HMS.

  11. Sir(TKS,HS),
    Let us bring some process and method to this intellectual exercise. Then it will be very easy to comprehend all the valuable inputs we are getting from the readers. We are very fortunate that readers of this blog who are participating with valuable inputs are people of proven capabilities and integrity with exceptional domain knowledge. And one common thread is that all love aviation. The challenge will be to blend this exceptional domain knowledge to derive logical conclusion to this case study. I have prepared a time bound road map for this project. It is like this.
    • Give a name to this case study exercise
    • Team formation with assigned responsibilities
    • Is the team professionally equipped to undertake this project?
    • Flow chart of the case study
    • Profile of a vip squadron pilot
    • Aim of this project
    • Design of the project. I have in my mind to adopt DMAC methodology. It is a proven methodology and I have some operational experience on this.
    • Final report
    TKS Sir,
    I request you to be the facilitator of this exercise. Your wisdom, experience, expertise and first hand knowledge of this incident will be invaluable asset to guide this project. Hope you will give your consent.
    Regards

    HS Sir,
    I request you to lead this team. When a team functions with diverse knowledge and expertise, it is sometimes difficult to align thought process to team’s goal. A leader with proven credential and domain knowledge will facilitate integration of diverse opinion. I have a firm opinion that you fit in to it. Please give your consent.
    Now why I am doing this. Tks’s story on pm crashes has some unique features.

    • First hand information with sequential narration supported by authentic and verifiable data.
    • Prime Minister of India is involved and he survives.
    • All the flying crew members dies
    • VIP squadron is in existence for more than fifty years. It is the only case of accident.
    • In a social net work few highly competent individuals with diverse background joining together to crack the mystery of that accident
    What next:
    • Inclusion as a teaching material in IIM’s and other reputed business management colleges.
    • To publish this case study in Harvard Business Review or other reputed business magazines
    • It may attract the attention of IAF,Navy and Army flight safety dept. and derive benefit out of it
    • We may persuade ISO certification companies to include this as teaching material

    Future prospect: If we are successful than we have gold mine of case studies in Tks’s tells. Than sky is the limit.
    At last but not the least it will give all of us intellectual stimulation of unparallel joy and we will leave behind something where posterity may be benefited.
    Lofty dreams but achievable.
    Regards

  12. Pradip, Thank you for your suggestion to lead the time. I am overwhelmed. Currently I am in London with my youngest son here spending some time, Otherwise I stay in Chennai. Frankly a complex and innovative Exercise like you have in mind I am not sure whether we could undertake with a service aircraft involved. TKS Tales are merely recap of the past and to lighten ones’ burden which one carries either as a memory or the baggage. That is how I had perceived initially to comment about late Dlima and family being very dear to me, and therefore Air Cmde Sen is in a better position to throw more light about TKS Tales and also to clarify about your amazing plan. Without meaning any offense may I request to keep me off from this task. Let us hear more from Air Cmde and also from Annandeep Pannu, ( Son of Late Gp Capt Pannu) and he is very talented in Aviation matters.

    Regards, HMS.

  13. I did not realize that this interesting Blog would turn into a huge discussion, but worth every penny!

    My humble input as a Pilot and I have very good friends in Communications SQN.

    1) Accoording to blog this was definitely a flight in IMC conditions(600′ over 1/2(vertical visibiltiy)).

    2) There were no NAVAIDS on the field.

    3) There were no GlideSlopes, VASI/PAPI, and RWY LGTS.

    4) Flight’s ETA was known to be in Dusk.

    5) At First attempt Pilot flew over the circuit, probably too high/too fast, which is normally the case when you are trying to be conciously safe(but it is counter productive).

    6) There is definite pressure on the Pilot, more than likely he is slightly/borderline embarrased in front of his crew and “THE VIP”. As a senior IAF Pilot, he cannot make ‘Go-Arounds’. Second attempt has to be corrected and perfect, first one was too high/fast, let us compensate by being Low/Slow.

    7) Goosenecks(basically DESI Chirag with Kerocine Oil) that gives yellow light icould have induced error of judgement in reading height in IFR conditions. That is why they use Blue Light for Runways.

    8) Even non synchronized Altimeters could not have helped, this could not have prevented anything. When you are 50′-100′ AGL it is visual judgement(Unless you are in IFR/CAT situation).

    Conclusion:

    1) Blame lies with the people who allowed a VIP Flight in such reduced minimal safety conditions. This is common sense!! You have to raise the ‘Minimums-needed’ bar when you have a PM on flight. Flying Military Transporters is different than Flying Commerical airliners. I remember when I was doing CPL, the CFI used to make us use the Rudder in X-Winds so that Nose is always pointed at the RWY, even at the cost of Drag and increasing stall speed, idea was to make the Passengers comfortable.

    2) Ground Crew/ATC could also be blamed for not letting the Pilot know of being too low(assuming they could see the Path).
    Alternatively, they could have sent advance party around the RWY thresholds to visually look for Plane and inform the Pilot on portable radios.
    This sounds crazy but could be a part of ATC/Airport staff’s checklist when you know PM’s plane missed the RWY and is low on Fuel to go elsewhere.
    (this practice was followed in WW2 when RAF used to land in France for Spy missions)

    Filght Safety does not end with Pilots but also with Airport Staff.

  14. Dear Saravjit,
    Yours is a high quality input. Now deploying your inputs let us try to quantify safety effect it had on that ill-feted flight. Please try to do this exercise.
    • AS a pilot you know all the parameters which makes a flight 100% safe.
    • Now assign weightage to each parameter as per its importance. Ensure that it adds upto 100%.
    • Now draw a fishbone (cause and effect) diagram in your excel sheet and than see the impact.
    My back of the envelop calculation states reduced efficiency of about 40% which interprets that probability of accident went up as high as 40%.
    No professional commercial pilot worth its salt would undertake a flight with PM on board with 60% operational efficiency unless he is forced upon. I have also corroborative evidence from various news clipping to substantiate it.

    In this era , air flight is safest mode of transportation. Commercial airlines are striving for six sigma efficiency level. What does that imply? It implies absolute elimination of human error. How do you achieve that? Strictest adherence to Standard Operating Procedures is the mantra. No compromise even if the non conformity is of minor nature. Now here is the anachronism: instead of elevating the safety standard , they reduced it and flue. It was hara-kiri and disaster in making.
    My heart bleeds when I feel that those valiant crews have been wronged by the establishment.
    You must be a busy pilot and may have paucity of time. If so than define the parameters with weightage and send it to me. I shall carry out the exercise. I am a retired person.
    This exercise will through a number which will establish impact of severity and poor decision process.
    Regards

  15. Dear Pradip,
    I appreciate the energy and interest that you are showing for an accident that happened 34 years ago. Since then water has flown under the bridge and new technologies are in use in India.

    I believe Comm Sqn these days fly Boeings and the Pilots are top notch with proper skills, in addition planes too have latest equipment.

    I feel confident that IAF these days is in very competent hands. They can land fixed wing airplanes at Thoise(15000′) and in places in Uttrakhand where POH would not recommend it.

    Let us just enjoy the Blog and leave Filght Safety analysis to Air Cde Sen’s successors in IAF.

    PS: If you dont mind me asking, are you some kind of Project Manager because you are talking about Sigma Six XXXX??

    • Sarvjit, I have seen both the worlds, the Air Force and the Civil Aviation from very close quarters. I do not want any one to feel or conclude that the training and operations of flights in the Air Force lacks supervision. I get that feeling from the discussion. Far from Truth. The Operational Training of Service Pilots and Crews is carried out with great care to ensure that there is no slip shod approach. They are rated and the training has both actual flying and the Simulators. To imagine, them days anything was not done as is being done now , will be great disservice to those individuals who had flogged their lives in ensuring that the standards were maintained at the Highest Levels. The Air Force had created Centres of Excellence much before any body attempted in the Country, in the field of aviation.

      I could not emphasize enough to bring home the talent of Communication Squadron Aviators. Their Skills, and capability could not be anything but Exceptional. The Commanding Officer if I recall attends the aircraft when The PM is involved. To that extent the flight is supervised. No cutting corners, or reducing Expenditure because for the Air Force the foremost is Operations and Efficiency.

      Let me put this way to you if I were to analyze the Flight. The flight to Jorhat was like any other flight the Com Sqn plans and undertake with the VVIP. The weather was within the Pilots Minima. Incidentally most Flights are IFR. The weather en-route was alright and at the destination possibility of some weather which always happens in the Eastern Sector and clears of. The very fact the crew continued flight after a Point Of No return suggests that they were confident to make it. It was a different matter that weather clamped down including the visibility reducing.

      Most airfields infrastructure was bare minimum those days. Just NDB. VOR was a luxury to say the least. Air Force is trained to undertake flights in all weather, and with Aids or No Aids. Accidents do happen and with hind sight we learn a lesson or two. Be it I suggest that the Air Force must have drawn its own conclusion what ever it may be after this accident.

      Finally I put this to you; the sortie with the PM was like any other sortie the Squadron undertakes, including Eastern Sector. The Flight progressed beyond the point of no return to initiate any diversion suggest the confidence to make it. in or before the terminal area they have descended and to their bad luck the visibility deteriorated to an extent, despite heading straight to Runway the cockpit hit the tree. Look at the Providence, being an aviator you will appreciate that the Front Cockpit has fallen off, killing the crew and the fuselage just makes a landing and the passengers being safe. This is short of miracle if I were to measure in terms of Aero dynamic.

      We have Flogged the subject enough, i am signing off. Like you said that Air Cmde did not bargain for all this when he wrote on the Blog. But it was wonderful to know you all and express opinion Freely and Frankly.

      My Suggestions with Malice to None.

      Much Regards, HMS.

  16. Dear All,
    I am also signing off from this blog with this news clipping.

    On November 4, 1977, though cable television had not arrived in India, the news of Prime Minister Morarjee Desai’s plane crash had the government in a tizzy. Desai escaped relatively unhurt, P.K. Thungon, who was the Arunachal chief minister and was travelling with him, fractured his


    left leg and suffered some other injuries as well.
    The plane had crashed in Jorhat, Assam. In those days, the Pushpak Rath, the 1970s version of Air India One, was a Tupolev-124K.
    “I’m very sorry to hear that Mr Reddy’s plane is missing,” Thungon told Hindustan Times.
    He doesn’t remember much. “I tried very hard to forget that unfortunate incident. It was in 1977 or 1978.”
    “I had advised them against flying to Jorhat after 2 p.m,” he said. Light and weather conditions in the Northeast are not conducive to flying at that hour. “But these people (the PMO) insisted and we took off from Delhi around 6 p.m.”
    The plane, he said, overshot the runway the first time they tried to land. The pilot turned around and returned. “But the second time it crashed nose down. We crashed into a paddy field,” he said.
    A few minutes later, Thungon realised that his leg was fractured. “I crawled out holding onto the walls. I think about seven people had died.”
    When the paddy caught fire, the survivors — “I think there were about 11” — moved several feet away. “We were afraid that the plane might explode.”
    It took rescuers two hours to find them and move them to the nearest hospital.
    This post is about five brave but unsung crew members of Indian Air Force who in order save the life of the then Indian Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, sacrificed their lives on November 4, 1977.

    On that fateful day, Indian Air Force’s Tupolev-124K (V-643) nick named Pushpak Rath (meaning floral chariot) took off from New Delhi’s Palam airport for Jorhat in Assam carrying the Prime Minister and his entourage, for a six-day tour to the North-Eastern India.

    The aircraft reached Jorhat 17:03 hours. It was almost dark, the airfield lacked facilities for night landing and on top of it the weather was really bad. The aircraft did not land in its first attempt as it was slightly high and not fully aligned with the runway. In the second approach, though it was almost in line with the runway but it descended to dangerously low levels, with the result that its nose wheel ploughed into the tree tops and it crash landed in a rice field in ‘Tekelagaon’ village near the airfield. The Prime Minister and his entourage, who were at the back of the aircraft, survived the crash and came out walking and unscathed, however none of the crew members survived.

    Actual reason for the crash is not known but because of bad weather the officer in charge of Air Traffic Control was providing the information on cloud base after assessing it with naked eyes and his assessment may have gone wrong or a sudden ‘down draft’ could have pushed it down. Moreover subsequent enquiry showed that both the altimeters of the plane also were faulty which may have misled the pilots during descent.

    The crew had shown exemplary courage and extreme presence of mind to save the Prime Minister. They made the crash landing in such a way that the cockpit took the full impact. That is where their sacrifice stands out. Just before the plane crash-landed, the crew had asked a trainee engineer who was in the cockpit to move to the rear – a clear proof that the crew had purposefully nose landed the plane fully knowing the consequence. The trainee engineer survived. Had they landed the plane on its belly, the aircraft would have exploded and the story would have been very different.

    Photo Credit: http://www.outlookindia.com

    The valiant crew members who lost their lives were;

    1. Wing Commander Clarence D’Lima,
    2. Wing Commander Joginder Singh,
    3. Squadron Leader Mathew Cyriac,
    4. Squadron Leader V V S Sankar and
    5. Flight Lieutenant O P Arora.

    After the accident the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha) did pass a resolution but the most tragic part is that none of the deceased crew members received any posthumous award for their extreme sacrifice.

    The report of the Court of Inquiry headed by Air Marshall D. Subaiah could not be traced on the web but as per press reports, the authorities cited human error in the incident to deny the gallant crew members the status of martyrs – what a pity!

    However, the IAF did recognise two heroes from that crash – and they were Flt Lt P K Raveendran (now retd Gp Capt) and Corporal K N Upadhyay. Both were in the passenger compartment and they were instrumental in evacuating the other passengers out of the aircraft. Upadhayay was injured but he was at the forefront in evacuating all the passengers. After the crash, both the officer and airmen trekked their way to Jorhat airfield to fetch help.

    In recognition, both were awarded the Shaurya Chakra (The third highest peacetime gallantry award) in 1979.

    I

  17. Thanks to Air Cde Sen for one more fabolous and stirring article.

    I dont know what is it about aviation and airplanes that kindles the light in Pilots, the thrill of lifting at rotation, smell of oil…

    Officers of IAF from yester years deserve a standing ovation everytime I pass or think of them.

    Few months ago I had the honor of having Tea with MIAF Arjan Singh Jee. He has such commanding personality.

    I wonder if Air Cde Sen had the pleasure working under him.

    Also, Sir Jee – You should consider writing a book about your blogs. I will be the first one to buy.

  18. Decisions are made in split seconds under high pressure-especially such as the ones that make up the meat of this tale. Experience and information are the major companions of that other insidious partner called intuition! Add to that the filters of personal inclination, remembered fragments of various conversations and instructions and it is practically impossible to gauge what could finally have led to the decisions that were taken by various people on that fateful day. 34 years on it is easy to cogitate, to refer back to unsubstantiated or perhaps ill informed recounts and reports, to second guess what amounts to several second and third guesses already-and as is evident from the discussion that took place before-arrive at precisely no new space or conclusion!!! This is inevitable!

    If only we could take all such incidents, make a dispassionate listing of the learnings gleaned from them in a totally impersonal and non-judgemental manner, then perhaps the experience, knowledge and domain expertise of a large number of people who may bring these capacities into the analysis of such incidents, would serve as something to hang a thought on. When the lives of 5 fine young officers may not have been lost in vain-at least three of whom probably did not ever know why or how their lives ended so suddenly. Nor the grit and courage of the survivors held up and found wanting against those who lost their lives.

    How many of us make a single decision that could stand up to such varied, intrusive and detailed analysis on any day in our lives I wonder……

  19. I stumbled on this blog in a rather circuitous manner.
    Being a lifelong aviation enthusiast, I was doing my routine visit to http://www.airliners.net which featured a beautiful photograph of a Russian Tu-124. I remembered that the IAF had these aircraft and googled ‘IAF- TU-124’ and saw photos of the example at the Air Force Museum in Palam. This brought back memories from my earliest childhood. I was 6 years old and my father a dental surgeon in the IAF had been posted a few months ago to Palam from Bangalore. We were put up in temporary accommodation (a two room affair) in what was for us ‘southies’ the unfamiliar cold of Delhi. One early morning my parents were speaking in disturbed tones and I could glean from the discussion that our family friend, Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac had died in an aircrash, there was mention of the PM. Soon we were at the family home of the Cyriacs and I remember the house being full of people (the IAF is one big family) and Cyriac aunty appearing delicate in a white sari. It was a morbid and slightly detached experience for a 6 year old with an aeromodel in his hand.
    All these years later, TKS sir’s original blog took me right back to those times, water repellant coat, scooter, MT section….terms from my airforce childhood! I feel your narrative was very balanced and evocative. I could not become a professional pilot due to my eyesight, but became a retinal surgeon instead and a few years after marriage, my wife got me to train for a private pilots license in the UK.
    In my humble opinion, the inclement conditions and the altimeters not being reset were reason enough for the crash. But your narration of the events that night got my pulse racing. Even to this day I am somewhat awestruck by pro pilots and a bit envious too. It was a pleasure to be privy to your discussion.
    Zac

    • Hello Zac

      Welcome to the Blog. In any case you were born into the Air Force Family and you are always welcome.

      I keep the comments channel open for all posts just for chance meetings like this to remain possible. I am glad that you enjoyed (?) the narration.

      TKS

  20. It was by chance that I hit upon this blog while searching for one of the pilots. I crisply remember the news aired the subsequent day of the crash with the PM escaping unscathed in Jorhat, perishing the entire crew except few. I was just 12. My memories got more more livid when during my training days at Tambaram, in 1986, one of our Air Frame Instructors (JWO NK Upadhyay, SC) related the story of the crash. He narrated the entire episode and said he was instrumental in saving the PM along with his aides, and he marathon-ed for 15 odd kilometers to reach the nearest Air Force Base to convey the news. Though I have never met him again but the entire story is now clear after going through this blog. Thanks to all the contributors. i can be reached at cooljupiter999@yahoo.in.

  21. Takela Goan, Jorhat,Assam.
    Which place was accident. I am from this village on which village was accident. From accident place to my home only 800 meter. .

  22. Pingback: When the Prime Minister’s plane crashed | abn397

  23. Correction to one of the valiant pilots name who put his life before everyone’s life. He is none other than ” Squardon Leader VVS Sunkar”. It is NOT Sankar. He was my father :-(. I was only 2 yrs then and 4 Nov is my sister’s birthday she was celebrating her 5th birthday when my father got a call to join the team to ferry the PM which was not planned.

    • Dear Praveen — Sad to hear — am not from the IAF family but I can understand the loss you suffered so early in your childhood. My prayers for the departed souls.

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