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PAK-1 Crash-Landed

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By- Kamal Baruah

After the Jonga began to climb on the rocky plateau, the area resembled a war-torn battlefield. The jeep has iconic status in Army for its high ground clearance and powerful engine and it can be mounted with Anti-tank gun. We saw the entire province relatively a dry and arid landscape of Banni grassland. The gruelling severe heat wave was almost intolerable and the presence of strong wind threatened us. I had sojourned once in the Great Rann, a frightening, ghostly barren region that stretches before the eye to the horizon and beyond into the enemy border at the Gulf of Kutch.
Though we steered through the valley of the shadow of death, we feared no evil as Para-military diligently protecting us. There were virtually no signs of human habitation to twenty km radius from our detachment camp at Indo-Pak border. We rested on the heat of the day after a long drive on rough road. The moonlight sky was spectacular and worked wonders to rejuvenate in hostile terrain. It was serene in this lonely planet. The emitting light of Karachi was seen from our location. Suddenly a noise of a chopper scared us. It was enemies flying Drone hovering at the top for border surveillance and flew away with airborne imagery. And I sing along “You can’t quit until you try. Just open your eyes and see that Life is beautiful” and lonely there.
Morning shows the day and we wish a new morning for a clear reception of Flying Ops activities. We called it as early party. It’s no bliss for hiking on dead stone but for the call of the nation. We climbed the mountain slowly towards the peak for Ops Room situated at the top. It has high end Trans-receivers to monitor enemy activities. It sounded like the French word m’aider (help me) May Day. And there is distress signal of SOS at 121.5 or 243 MHz channels (now at 406 MHz). Our base is operational 24×7 in a secret location.
With all that, Radio personnel work day and night, sending Morse code with headphone on and monitoring activities of Fighter aircrafts thereby patrolling India’s air space to exercise sovereignty. The background noises are part of our companion as on High Frequency receiver, there is always an ambient radio noise that picked up by the antenna, however well it is sited. Those mysterious sounds from VHF Omni-directional broadcast of Aerodrome identification are actually weird Morse Codes heard over Short Wave.
Every country wants to build up her Air Force as an efficient force, second to none.  Without that, it’s at the mercy of an aggressor. Thereby Pilots practice to pursue perfection as it is a matter of fractions of a second to make decision to hit or eject inside cockpit and endangering safety of aircraft too. And at the same process, ground crew provide direction and advisory services very nearly to aircraft through controlled / non-controlled airspace.
Pak fighter pilots have a strong American accent as they are mostly trained in foreign soil and we were amazed to hear their Flyer Talk on board so well, so does with signal strength and readability. It is always 5X5 (the term means “I understand you perfectly”) in the border. A clean sky makes us worry for the day as there would be non-stop flying for hours. It was harrowing task to record how complex the communication between F16 Pilots and Air Traffic Control. Yet we were interpreting those phonetic alphabet, phraseology and clearance at ease. It’s 11:00 Zulu time or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  Pilots have their own secret language. Here’s what they are really saying some sweet Urdu at the end. My plane started to utarna (descend). I can discern no difference between the two countries. The visibility was 6/6 and we hovered overhead searching for an enemy.
ATC sent four fighter jets F16 to escort one Transport aircraft C130. They were all on air. Suddenly my HF Receiver went on clear and precise voice “Pakistan Air Force One” (Pak One – call sign of military Transport aircraft for Pakistan President). I had just heard something socking and asking for myself, “Did I hear right?”. I was frantic with worry and pressed the record button on receiver instantly. It went on again “crash-landed, Pakistan Air Force One, crash-landed”. All flying came to a grinding halt and SAR (search and rescue) for emergency evacuation on land started.  
The troops felt like winning a war after I caught Mr President on board. Yeah, that too happened with an incident. Only a few had the luck to witness such heroic performance on a life time. Also I soon realized that I could record the repetition of second line at least of that Radio Telephony else I would have been severely reprimanded as there are other bases for the simultaneous reception.  Combatant personnel were trained hard and got to catch them all on any situation. We all saw the disaster film how the Titanic sank. The Wireless Controller did not deliver the ice warning to relieving operator at the ship for clearing a backlog of passengers’ personal messages. But I instantly reported the matter to higher authority through satellite.
General Pervez Musharraf was then the President cum Military Head of Pakistan. There was full of suspense and thrilling excitement amongst us. An hour of burst of heart stopping action was messages from the beyond. What were we thinking about? We were miles and miles away from that incident. After half an hour, the runway became operational again; it was the mock drill at Keti Bandar near Karachi. We relieved off after such aviation adventures. We almost caught a plane (PAK-ONE) crashed with Mr President on board for a while.
(The writer is a former air warrior. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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