State owned helicopter rescues 261 marooned people from different affected areas

BELL 407 CONFIGURED WITH DOOR REMOVED AND HELPER STRAPPED UP-01

SRINAGAR: While local youth, Air force, Army, NDRF and others rescued thousands of people from the deluge when river Jhelum bursting its banks on the night of 6th Sept and flooded the State Capital Srinagar; a modified Bell Helicopter belonging to the State Civil Aviation Department too played its vital role and rescued as many as 261 people who were stranded at different places in the State.
“For a non-military, civilian helicopter, not configured with any rescue equipment like winch etc, this act of rescuing the trapped people, including men, women, patients and children over four consecutive days from rooftops, pulling them physically by hand, may well be an unprecedented achievement anywhere”.
On the instructions of Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, the Commissioner Civil Aviation, J&K Government took up the matter with Gp Capt Indranil Bhattacharya and Gp Capt Samir Kaul for exploring possibilities for pressing the State helicopters for rescuing the stranded people in floods. They immediately responded to the situation and after deliberations it was decided that the Bell helicopter would be modified and will rescue of marooned people attempted. As the city was completely submerged there was no place for the Helicopter to land and after considering many options one door of the helicopter was removed and a SSG man selected to assist in the envisaged mission. The plan was to bring the helicopter to low hover near the victims on the rooftops and pull them up physically, if possible or drop food packets (Water, Milk, Banana and Biscuits). Constable Javaid Bhat (SSG) was thoroughly briefed and dry drills carried out on the helicopter till the team became confident of executing the mission.
The Pilots, Gp Capts Bhattacharya and Kaul along with helper Ct Javaid after thorough briefing set out to undertake the mission. The areas from where rescue mission was carried out were primarily the localities of Indra Nagar, Rajbagh, Shivpura, Tulsi bagh, Gogji bagh, Civil Secretariat, Batmaloo and Hotel Management training institute (Rajbagh) etc. In a colossal effort over the four days period from 8th to 11th Sept, 149 sorties were flown, wherein, 261 victims were pulled to safety from rooftops by the Bell helicopter. This was first of its kind operation by the State owned helicopter that helped in rescuing the stranded people.
The pilots had to use all their skill, judgment, airmanship, physical and mental faculties to take on this challenge. The helicopter had to be manoeuvred over rooftops contending with hazards to helicopters like steeply slanting and conical roofs, antennae, tall poles & pipes, large water tanks, High Tension wires & Pylons, Mobile & other towers, Cables strung across buildings and very tall trees.
In subsequent sorties, the helicopter carried emergency water and food (Bananas, biscuits and Milk) from the civil airport and literally dropped them in the hands of the victims and during the return, picked up people from the rooftops, thereby enhancing the efficiency of these rescue missions.
The pilots flew with complete disregard to personal comfort, rest and inherent personal safety issues. There was extraordinary support by the Ground & technical team to keep the machine refuelled, serviced and flying by ensuring quick turn-round.
For each sortie both pilots had to keep pushing each other to keep all their faculties on highest alert. They displayed exceptional Crew Resource Management in undertaking this arduous task. There were many a close call while manoeuvring the helicopter between the numerous obstructions and fending off desperate victims who literally grabbed onto any part of the helicopter in an attempt to get on board. The biggest motivation was the heartfelt gratitude and thanks expressed by each rescued victim. Their tears, sincere thanks and many a military style salute after exiting the helicopter kept the pilots enthused to go all out to save precious lives.