At 1200h, the ‘Condors’ (a Mi-17 1V helicopter unit in Jammu) was tasked for this rescue. The unit technicians raced to the helicopter to prepare and launch it without any delay. Within 30 minutes the aircraft was made available for the mission. The heavy rains in Poonch were making their presence felt in Jammu as well and the crew utilized this time to prepare for the mission and analyse the terrain and weather for the route and at the rescue location. Understanding the gravity of the situation, the crew got airborne by 1300h to attempt a rescue, but the heavy rain and lightning en route forced them to return to Jammu. Despite the rescue location being 160 kms away, the Air Force Met section provided precise analysis enabling the crew to take off at 1700h. Braving their way through the marginal weather and the hills, the crew navigated to the distress location where two such islands in the middle of the raging river were identified.
Due to the proximity of huts and electricity wires, the helicopter couldn’t land and established a hover on the first island at fifteen feet. The Air Force Garud Commandos bravely went down a rope ladder and organised the villagers and started rescuing them one by one. With no visual references due to the flowing waters, the helicopter had to be expertly handled to hover accurately amidst the trees and wires, while the villagers gingerly climbed the rope ladder. In fifteen minutes, the Garuds helped rescue four villagers, before the helicopter flew across to the other island. The villagers on this island included women with toddlers and elderly folk. The Garuds were again lowered and had to carry these villagers while the helicopter had to steadily hover for half an hour.
By this time the sun was setting and the skies grew dark. A total of 17 villagers were rescued which included a baby in arms and the crew flew to Poonch, landing in the fading light of the day. The Army received them and provided first aid and refreshments, thus bringing to a close a herculean evacuation showcasing the synergized efforts of the Armed Forces while helping those in need of immediate assistance.
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