Ejected over No Man's Land!
- Category: The Bangladesh War 1971
- Last Updated: Saturday, 22 December 2018 16:40
- Written by Gp Capt Gurdeep Singh (Retd)
- Hits: 7701
Gp Capt Gurdeep Singh Samra 8695 F(P) was a young Flight Lieutenant with No.101 Squadron operating from Adampur. He narrates the harrowing tale of ejecting over No-Mans land in the Chamb sector - and enduring severe injuries. He would later be rescued by Indian Army troops and underwent a full recovery back to flying fit status for a fruitful and rewarding career in the IAF.
I was commissioned on 1st August 1964 as a part of 89/90th Pilots course at then No 2 JTW (JET TRAINING WING ) Mohamadabad, BIDAR. After having stint at Kalaikunda (Vampire FB 52, 221 Squadron) , Hasimara (16 Wing - Toofanis, 4 Squadron) and Ambala (7 Wing, Mystere IVA, 8 Squadron), I was posted to 26 Squadron AF, at 8 Wing AF Adampur on induction of Sukhoi-7 aircraft on 5 May 1968. After about six months I was posted to 101 Squadron AF at the same base when it converted to Sukhoi-7s. I stayed put in 101 Squadron from 29 Oct 1968 To 26 Jan 1971 (As a young Fg Offr to Flt Lt ) when I was selected to undergo APQFI (ALL PURPOSE QUALIFIED FLYING INSTRUCTOR) - course at Air Force Station Tambaram. By this time I had besides attaining fully operational day and night status , also flown almost 400 hrs on S-22 aircraft (The Sukhoi-7 was frequently referred to as S-22 or Type S-22).
Having finished the course successfully in July 1971, I was posted to Air Force Academy, Dundigal, where I started the training on Harvard aircraft with, most probably the 108 Pilot's course. When I had gone for APQFI course I was already engaged and decided to get married now. As hindsight perhaps it was not the right time but destiny decided it that way - Who can go against destiny? Against all odds I was granted leave and went to SHIMLA where my parents had settled and got married on 27 Sep 71 at Ferozepore Cantt.
We all know what was happening since Feb 71 that year. As things started heating up the IAF swung into action. They decided to augument the pilot strength in all Fighter Sqns. Hence training institutions were instructed to part with the fighter pilots and manage training with balance of transport and helicopter pilots. After getting married, I remember getting a telegram : "Leave cancelled- join duty immidiately".
I managed to arrive back on duty on 9 Oct 71 leaving newly wed wife Maninder Kaur, a young girl , at Shimla, getting the first shock and taste of IAF life. We were told to keep our luggage packed and be ready to leave at short notice. And one fine day 19 Oct 71 when we were at Secunderabad Club enjoying ourselves (Sipping Chilled beer ), messege came to rush back to AFA as the aircraft will be leaving from Begumpet. All excitement, suspense,imagining and everyone discussing and guessing as to when the balloon will go up. Having also seen token action of 1965 war in the East while being posted at Hasimara, I can say things were extremely well organized and planned this time. We commenced our journey from Begumpet ,in an Dakota, somewhere around 8/ 9 pm. It happened to be Diwali night. All on board the Dakota aircraft had the opportunity of enjoying all India Diwali , besides the cold at that height.
Once we arrived at Palam ,the transition camp - humming with activity - handed us our railway warrants to go to our respective old units from where we had all gone for the course etc. Incidentaly before this happened I was earmarked for FAC Duties (Forward Air Controller – A pilot who is placed on ground along with army at reasonably forward post from where he can see the enemy forces and able to guide our own aircraft on to them sucessfully) somwhere in western sector, which was not acceptable to me.
At night I telephoned Adampur, my CO Wg Cdr K C Khanna and Sqn Ldr Banerji M Flt Cdr. On their intervention it was changed and I boarded the train for Adampur to join 101 Squadron once again. From 20 Oct 71 till commencement of war we did few familiarsation sorties to get our hand back. And finally the day arrived and on the evening of 3 Dec 71 the war finally broke out officially. All that is well documented and known to all. But this is my personal story of my short involvement in the operations.
4th December 1971
On the morning of 4th Dec 71 we woke up almost at 4 O'clock to attend the Met Briefing. Not that we had any proper sleep at night. The news and expectations as to what is going to happen, after hearing the news on radio in the evening on 3 Dec 71, the next day, kept one half awake thruout the whatever was left of the night hours. Once we arrived at Adampur Base Ops we found it to be humming with activity. We met pilots from TACDE, Then known as TCTDS who had already undertaken night missions and landed at Adampur either for another mission or refuelling on their way back to Ambala. All attended the briefings - the weather was expected to be widespread fog over Indian as well as Pakistani airspace. Our CO and Flight Commander were briefed separately regarding the targets to be attacked. Rest of us proceeded to our respective crew rooms for preparations of the missions.
Here I must make a mention that from 18 Oct to 4 Dec 71 while at Adampur I had some back problems and it was very difficult for me to walk properly or even get into the aircrew van which in those days was a rickety rack One Tonner vehicle. The rear platform was quite high and had no steps to get into. Initially I tried some local lotions etc but of no avail. When I could not bear it I finally went to MH Jallandhar Cantt. They took an X-ray but to my utter surprise and horror found nothing wrong clinically. But I continued to have pain and problems as earlier. I continued to fly too, although having difficulty in climbing the long ladder into S-22 cockpit. Once I was in the cockpit or sitting in crew room it was OK but problems in getting up walking, climbing stairs etc. Once Military Hospital authorities found nothing wrong, I could not say much. If I had refused to fly it would/could have been taken as an act of cowardice and chickening out under adverse circumstances. So inspite of everyone knowing about it but on my insistence I was allowed to continue flying.
After the first mission by IAF it was now time to fan out in support of Army. Our squadron was assigned the task of supporting the ground troops in Chamb sector. So as we landed after the first mission myself and Flt Lt J Bhattacharya were assigned for Close Air Support mission in Chamb sector. We both went to our GLO who thoroughly briefed us on all aspects, targets to be attacked , precautions to be taken and alternate targets etc. And there we were fully briefed and raring to go once again .
The fateful sortie
My memory on time fails me for exact timings but it must have been aproximately about 9-9.15 am when I as No.2 took off from Adampur airfield , skirting Pathankot and the Shakargarh bulge to approach the battle field area of Chamb. As is well known that on the night of 3-4 Dec the Pakistanis had tried their armour thrust with the aim of cutting of Kashmir from the rest of India and had succeeded in entering Indian territory, hence the need for urgent air support.
On dot on time we contacted the FAC Fg Offr V G Kumar another pilot from Adampur base itself and well known to each other. He tried his best to guide my leader but some how or the other he was not able to make contact with the tanks. We carried on orbitting making efforts to locate the targets. Although I had contact with the enemy tanks and also tried to guide him besides the FAC but without any success. As we had already spent enough time in orbitting and locating the targets and were also getting low on fuel without yet having achieved the main aim of attacking their tanks.
My leader asked me to overshoot him and carry on with the attack as I was in contact with the enemy tanks. In the meanwhile having already warned the enemy about our presence, gave them sufficient time not only to hide themselves under a grove of trees but also be ready to take shot at us. So having overshot my leader I turned around and pulled up for the attack. We had selected four rockets to be fired at a time from all four pods so that 16 -57 mm rockets are released each time which would have given us four passess with 16 rockets in each pass besides the gun passess if required.
I think it was almost simultaneous because as I released the rockets at the proper range more or lesss the same time I heard some thuds on my aircraft, which I soon realised were ack ack gun hits from the same tanks which I had fired upon and destroyed (confirmed later on by Army troops as well as the FAC )So as I looked inside to check the after effects of those thuds. What I saw stunned me as numreous red lights were flashing and guages were giving erratic readings, indicating engine failure and fire in the aircraft. I was obviously heading in a direction which would have taken me deeper into Pakistan territory. But that intiution , sixth sense and presence of mind made me turn towards Indian territory while pulling up to gain maximum height so that I could glide as much into Indian side as possiible. Because ejecting immidiately would have been asking for sure place in POW camp if captured alive. After all we are all trained for our life to be able to defend our Nation while fighting the enemy, and if an eventuality arises must try to come back safely which will not only be better as an indiviual but a morale booster for colleages too.
So there I was having almost climbed to one Km plus (~3300 feet AGL) and hopefully heading towards Indian side as all instruments were not behaving properly and believed in them with a pinch of salt. While I was trying to make RT calls to declare my emergeny and intentions of ejecting I was also making an attempt to relight the engine which could take me to nearest airfield Pathankot for an emergency landing. Because under the circumstances going back to to Adampur was asking for too much. I tried an MAY DAY call but as even R/T had packed up it was a futile one. My leader did not see me ejecting or had any knowledge about my where abouts or fate.
In the process while gliding I was also losing height having failed in my attempts at hot relight etc. And I suddenly found myself to be almost at tree-top Heights or rather even lower. I called to myself that it is now or never. No question of asking yourself for any further clarification - just punch out. That is exactly what I did as I literally yanked back on the stick to pull the aircraft out of shallow gliding attitude otherwise considering the height and downwards angle, ejection would have been fatal. It almost was even otherwise. As I levelled the aircraft at tree tops and pulled both EJECTION handles as trained with all the might not to err in applying the required force. The last I observed the ASI (Air Speed Indicator ) was almost showing zero.
What happened immidiately after that is unknown. The whole process does not take much time as sequence of action takes place in miliseconds one after another and for low height ejections like mine the parachute opens immidiately and there is no free fall. After those couple of seconds which are blank in my life I found myself safely under the life saving canopy giving me assurance that everything functioned as laid down in the manual and expected by manufacturer. While this process of EJECTION was taking place the aircraft being at low altitude crashed almost simultaneously and almost fully armed aircraft and still plenty of fuel remaining , catching fire instantaneousy sending flames high up in the air,to the same height where I was hanging by the parachute and coming down.
Everything was happening so rapidly. I was engulfed in those flames making me not only difficult rather impossible to see where I was going to land , but besides my clothes also catching fire. I was getting intense heat on my face and my eyebrows too got burnt somewhat, forcing me to close my eyes . Having ejected at very low height , affected by fire I had no time to put my feet even together for so called class room trained landing .Before I could realise I was dumped on the ground at a fall rate faster than expected because due to flames and high temperatures the parachute got smouldered making it come down at a faster rate of decsent. As I had landed in fire spread out from the wreckage I stood up immediately to run away from fire to a safer place and distance from the crashed aircraft. As I stood I soon realised that because of uneven landing as my feet were not placed togeather, closed eyes and even the undulated terrain of the fields I had fractured myself and was in no condition to walk.
I was in extreme pain but had to take action immidiately to save from the fire. Besides the aircraft was bursting and leftover ammunition firing / exploding in random directions, fortunately not in my direction.
Thank GOD for small mercy. It was bad enough to leave the cool comfort of the aircraft and being all alone ,on the ground that too in an hostile environment.(no doubt they say Cockpit is really safe place) After a safe ejection it would have been unfortunate to be killed by own aircraft ammunition. So I unmasked myself threw the bonedome away and started dragging myself away from the wreckage towards a few trees which I planned to be my resting and recouping place and charting further plan of action. I was feeling thirsty and sweating in pain and wondering what next? It was about 1000-1015 hrs when this happened.
Contrary to what some people talk no family thoughts came to my mind either before or after ejection, although I had got married only on 27 sep 71. I did not even see my leader aircraft anywhere in the vicinity locating me. Later on I learnt he did not see my aircraft at all.
The army's rescue attempt
It must have been aproximately 15-20 minutes or so when I suddenly saw an ambulance typical One Tonner vehicle of Indian army about 150 yards away. I thought myself to be lucky that rescue operation has been very prompt, although I was unsure of actual ground position and this vehicle could have been from anyside (Although Pakistanis I think use Crescent on Hospital vehicles ) Being injured and unable to walk away I had to depend on someone to rescue me friend or foe. Before I could realise the help which came suddenly vanished and I could not spot the ambulace. Was it a mirage or my imagination that I will be saved quickly and avoid the agony of pain and suffering for how long unknown to me .
Well there I was once again planning further action in whatever way possible for me with the grave injury. I was contemplating throwing the overall into the fire (as we all were flying with civil clothes underneath. Even having a pair of scissors to cut hair if required, besides of course having some Pakistani currency also )In my condition it was prudent to wait till dark which was a long way to go and hope like hell that I manage to reach Indian side as early as possible. Lot of permutaions and combinations went thru the mind in short period, cancelling many ideas and coming out with new ones. But I was not able to come up with a fool proof plan . The best was to wait , rest and think after the shock of ejection had subsided somewhat. I think it was maximum within 45 minutes of ejection and once again I saw another vehicle – this time a Willys Jeep.
As I learnt later on the ambulance crew had gone back saying fire of the wreckage is wide spread and no one could have survived. But Capt Appayya , from Engineers was adamant and perhaps very keen to capture first Pakistani pilot and took none of the nonsense and came himself for search along with another young officer and some jawans fully armed with weapons. I too did not want to miss this and perhaps the last chance of rescue.
Being a smaller vehicle it drove closer towards me and I too tried to whistle and waved hands to attract attention. It worked and they all jumped out of the jeep after driving a little closer and in no time surrounded me with rifles pointing at me. A typical scene from a western movie. There I was helpless lying half reclined on the ground with pain and weapons all around ready to shoot any moment. Some anxious moments passed looked like eternity as there was stunned silence except the booming of tank fire from both sides every now and then.But then wait how long.
I think both sides decided almost simultaneously and as I thought of being the first one ,the Capt took the initiative asking me -"Who are you?"
I had no choice and I said "INDIAN".
No smiles no emotions no change in attitude or weapons being lowered. Too soon to expect perhaps.
Then again some anxious silent moments passed and some conversation took place like myself asking units around, mentionting the name of Brigade for whose support we had flown ,also telling the name of FAC Fg Offr VG kumar from ADAMPUR. How much effect it had on them in convincing I did not know then.
Then suddenly once again I was asked "Have you got a weapon?" , and I was asked to throw it towards them , which I did . What amazed them was why was the first chamber empty. They were convinced on my explanation of accidental firing in overall pocket will spare me from injury. Then I was asked for map, any other documents,like code words etc which I threw towards them. Once all this done I thought it was over and I will be rescued , but nothing of sort happened, which left me completely confused and wondering what next.
After some more horrifying moments I finally took the courage when I found no further initiative from them, by asking that one question which was bugging me that who are you? I waited eagerly for a favourable answer as per me. Then ultimately after a little delay which appeared the longest in my life the Capt said "INDIAN!".
I was happy to hear that and so was he as I learnt later. I have been mentioning again and again later on , the reason being that the same Capt was shot later on and had a bullet in his stomach. Not only he landed up in the same Army Hospiatal Delhi Cantt but in my room where there were three patients. It was here where I spent from 6 Dec 71 to second week of March 72 that we all discussed and learnt about these details which I would have never ever come to know.
But inspite of all these clarifications I was still lying there. But soon after when I said I was suffering from pain why don’t we go where there was friendly activity. I was being helped to be evacuated. As I was in pain and seeing the Willys Jeep and also knowing about the ambulance I told why don’t you call the ambulance. Because in Jeep I would have been bundled increasing my agony further. The Capt then pointed to objects not very far away, THE PAKI TANKS , saying we cant wait here too long otherwise we will be sure targets for them as they pointed towards antennas of some vehicles literally aiming in our direction . Thanks to Pakistanis they gave us enough time to finish our formalties. Although I have taken time to write these details I don’t think in the battle field it was so long. Otherwise I wont be writing this story. So I was folded and dumped into jeep with all those people sitting all around. Nothing against them , they did their best , but those who know Willys jeep will realise the amount space for a patient with multiple fractures being there .
Evacuated to the Forward Post
I was driven for short distance and placed in an underground bunker managed by the Advanced Dressing Station in the field (this I think is the most forward medical help available ) They did not want to drive during day time because of fear of being attacked again. This cross type bunker was next to a tree where an Indian tank was parked and firing every now and then. After having seen the comfort of cockpit and then the ejection experience , the case of almost being shot after survival, the agony was not over yet. I was in pain as it is. Whenever the tank fired the bunker shaked and a little bit of earth fell with dust all around. I was sure that this tank will be enemy target too but I am thankful to Pakistanis that I survived because tank remained safe obviously. Inside a poor Jawan of med corps was running around to help the injured, although I found no one else there. He appeared quite worried, But was kind enough to help me with water from his hip bottle which had very little left as it is.No other medical aid could be provided as none was available there. I had no choice but to wait till dark suffering or no. One had no choice anywhere. (In Army hospital Delhi Cantt I was later informed by the same Captain that In case I had made slightest suspicious moment I would have been shot ) I am grateful to GOD who gave them the wisdom to think in a positive way to spare me and once again serve the nation which I did till I superannuated
Then in the evening along with some other patients we were put in an Ambulance and driven To Jaurian hospital. What a ride through fields! It was no comparison to smooth flying I was so used to. Once we reached the hospital it was around 9 pm or so and doctors were quick enough to attend. It was initially planks put to keep my leg straight. After some time they put plaster in Hurricane Lamp light. With no facility for Anasthesia it was simple and pure general medical aid. The way doctor twisted my leg to straighten it only I know the pain I went thru, perhaps pregnant ladies will know it better. But the plaster was so bloody tight that I was in more pain than even before. I was literally howling and told the doctor please do something otherwise I will break it .He was kind enough to help me and make me a little more comfortable. The night passed somehow as I had hardly any choice but to bear it anyway. Some food whatever available or given one had to swallow to survive . Under the circumstances even they had hardly any choice to offer.
Having come to hospital (they had no x ray facility there) I did come to know that I had three fractures one on the foot Navicular, shin bone , and major one on left knee – multiple internal fractures. All this because of my uneven landing with left foot taking all the weight .
The morning of December 5th was another exciting experience. Till now I was declared missing. Communication was poor. The squadron mates were hopefully waiting for some good news , perticularly they were worried about my backache and wondering what could have happened to me.
I still have not come to know as to how it happened but it did. My wife who was residing in Ferozepore Cantt after having shifted there from Shimla just end of October 71.She had come to Jallandar Cantt on 4 Dec 71 only because shelling had made life at Jhoke Hari Har village at Ferozepore extremely difficult, with shelling taking place continuously. Her brother was somewhere in Amritsar sector as a young captain in Signals. How he ever came to know I still don’t know, but from where ever he learnt he sent his Batman to Adampur to enquire about my wellbeing. As IAF base did not know about my fate they were unable to comment and just said all is fine, he is busy flying .
In any case they did not want to tell anything on telephone to unkown persons. This is generally the answer when you want to avoid answering the actuality. Somehow the night passed in acute pain and hardly any sleep. In any case flying was going on not knowing IAF or PAF and some sort of heavy and small arms fire taking place , so where was the question of sleep?. Having come to safer place it was now time to think about family and friends and lots of thoughts went thru the mind. Simultaneously the information reached the higher ups that I was safe . Obviously Adampur base was aslo informed and further action started, the further rescue and of course medical treatment, which was urgently needed.
Helicopter Evacuation to Udhampur
I was informed at night that a helicopter Mi-4 will be sent to take casulities to Udhampur Base Hospital. There were three or four of us. The chopper arrived . The plan was to keep rotating and shift the patients in and get off again as quickly as possible. After the chopper arrival we were being shifted by Army Jawans towards the helicopter, but just then PAF MiG 19 arrived on the scene orbiting overhead. I don’t know if they spotted the chopper kicking up dust or not but as a precaution Mi 4 swiched off for safety. And imagine what the Jawans who were lifting strechters did - They almost dropped us on mother earth and ran for safety. Leaving us as good targets for PAF although I wonder if PAF knew about our presence at all.
There we were helpless lying on the ground fully exposed where as others ran into trenches. This is what happens when you have to depend on others. We had no alternative but to be guinea pigs. Fortunately an officer came to our rescue . He lambasted the Jawans for leaving all handicapped injured persons to their mercy and forgetting all ethics . Then we were shifted to slightly better and safer place and not in the open. In any case MiG 19 shelling would not have spared between the injured or otherwise. I am thankful to PAF for not spotting the chopper and going back when their mission was over because of fuel constraints.
As they flew away and before the next wave came activity commenced and we all injured were hurriedly shifted into chopper while chopper pilots were starting it . Almost simutaneously as they finished their starting drill we were too in and he took off. What followed was a low level sortie following the countours of hills and we landed at UDHAMPUR Airfield. Luckily the ambulance was waiting and we were quickly taken to Base Hospital a much better place for medical facilities. An X Ray was taken and Doctors attended the injured ones. It was here I was told about the exact nature of injuries , which were and still are : COMMINUTED FRACTURE MEDICAL CONDYLETIBIA,NAVICULAR AND CUBOID (Rt )
I was cared for thruout the day and felt comfortable in better surroundings. Better food also made the diffrence.
Flight to Army Hospital Delhi
On the other side activities were going on to take injured ones including me to Delhi for further and final treatment. I was told that I will be evacuated by air soon. Day time was meant for fighters only or very special transport aircraft missions as bombers. A DHC-3 Otter was ready to take the casualties to Delhi. As the night fell which was quite early in those months three casualties were ready to be evacuated and we were shited into Otter aircraft. One patient was worse than me ,other a little better .I can say my situation was average. myself not a major problem as such.
What a ride it was in the Otter. Total darkness. A nightmare in hills,I should know being a fighter pilot. No lights at all. We as well as the Otter pilot were worried about aerial attack , fortunately it was safe journey to ADAMPUR, a refulling point besides my base to tell them I was safe and sound. The Otter landed sometime at midnight and my sqn mates and my flight commander were there to welcome me.
What a great feeling to be among the same people and a friendly atmosphere. The stay was short. I still remember my Flight Commander asking that should they inform my family means wife. I said NO because their messege could have been interpreted diffrently and cause confusion. I chose to do that myself, not knowing that my wife has already come to know (but how ???????? Still a secret or mystery ????).
Once the squadron learnt about my ejection they were all worried about my back and were 100 % sure that I would have backbone injury. But amazingly after the Ejection although I had other injuries but back problem was cured totally. From that day onwards the joke in 101 Sqn AF or rather Adampur was that if you have back bone problems, then Ejection is a sure shot cure. But I would not recommend it, as trying something the results of which you are not sure is a gamble.
I met all these people in Adampur in MI Room and soon time was there to start further journey. We were taken to tarmac again and back into Otter for onward journey. We landed at Palam aproximately at 3.30 am or so . It was windy ,very cold , but Ambulances were available at the Tarmac to transfer us to Army Hospital which was going to be my home till middle of March 1972. That was end of war for me having done my duty and now shifted away from battle field into a safer area.
The final treatment process was initiated soon and I was operated upon properly and satisfactorly and the recovery process commenced. I was in bed till 26 Jan 72 when for the first time walked on crutches amd after about another month with a stick which became a part of me till almost Sep/Oct 72 when I discarded the stick too and balanced on my own with a limp which still persists , besides osteo arthritis( setting in much earlier than expected ) problem and associated pain .
It was after about 24 hrs when as I told earliar my wife did come to know and she visited me in Army Hospital soon after learning from ADAMPUR that I have been shifted there . Then ofcourse Army Hospital was our home and she visited as often as possible till I was discharged from there on 14 Mar 72 and after two months of annual leave join duty at AFA Dundigal and resume flying again in Jan 1973.
Of course for next eight years my regular medical check ups initially every quarter, then six monthly and later yearly at CME Delhi or IAM Banglore kept me busy with medicos. Finally I got A2G2 as permanent cat and continued to fly all types of aircraft in all parts of the world. And now living a retired life with all the fond memories of yesteryears spent in IAF and the wars took part in. (Took active part in 65 and 71,besides being associated with KARGIL from Adampur where I happened to be COO when the conflict started during my re-empployment tenure .) What a great life it was . Love to be contiued to be associated with IAF for ever.
PS : if there is any indication of war in the immediate future Don’t get married because anything can happen.So better to stay single to avoid agony to two familys .The other reason you will get ample opportunity to interact with ppl in Hospital.(Applicable to Both genders) and decide peacefully .Well I have no regrets in tying the knot earliar.
WARS are NO good. Hardly any Nation has ever gained as The History tells us .
Let us learn to live in PEACE. AMEN
Mrs. Gurdeep Singh and Wg Cdr Gurdeep Singh during the CO Tenure (Above) - and a more recent photograph below!
The author, Gp Capt Gurdeep Singh, regained his flying category and went on to have a fulfilling career flying fighters in the IAF. In his latter years, he flew all versions of the MiG-21, commanded No.23 Squadron "Panthers" and flew MiG-23 fighters as well before retiring in 1995. He was also involved in the Kargil operations as COO of Adampur when he was re-employed as a reserve officer.