Wing Com Nikhil Naidu
As Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots and helicopters retreat in batches from flood-hit Uttarakhand to their bases, stories of valour that how helicopters landed at difficult places and evacuated pilgrims are still being talked about.
Wing Commander Nikhil Naidu, who was sent to Uttarakhand on June 18, was among the first lot of IAF pilots to see the devastated Gaurikund-Kedarnath stretch, the epicentre of flash floods and mudslides.
Wing Commander Naidu, accompanied by Fight-Lieut Miskeen, Wing Commander S Gupta and Squardon Leader Gartia, reached Kedarnath at 9 am on June 18. “The sight of destruction at Rambada, where stranded people had been taking refuge in heaps of bodies, shocked us,” said Naidu.
“It was very difficult to look for survivors on a narrow Gaurikund and Kedranath axis. Rambada village had been completely obliterated by the disaster. There was no place to land at Jungle Chatti and Gaurikund. Huge trees and power cables blocked the descent of copters. We touched one of the skids of our copter on the ground and with no support staff started evacuation operation,” he said.
“On June 22, the pilot of a private helicopter informed us about a couple stranded at an altitude of 10,500 ft. The couple was stuck at a precarious position with no way to walk down to the nearest makeshift helipad. It was a decision to be taken to attempt a dangerous operation of sending an iron cord down to lift up civilians who would be untrained in being lifted up by a hovering copter. As MET Department had forecast heavy rains from June 23 and June 24, the evening of June 22 was the last chance to evacuate the couple,” said Wing Commander Nikhil Naidu.
“They had to be winched using an iron cord and that would be possible only if there was someone on the ground to strap them in the winch. Yogender Rana volunteered to help. He was sent down. The high altitude, huge trees and winds added to the risk. But we managed to save the two lives. The couple is now recuperating at a hospital in Gujarat. Had this couple perished, I would have been guilty for the rest of my life.”
He further said, “The valley was narrow. A close coordination between the pilots and respect for each other’s courage made the task easier.”
Wing Commander Naidu belong to a family of Armed Forces personnel. His father Lt Gen ML Naidu has been the Vice-Chief of the Army. His maternal grandfather Lt Col Bharamanand Avasthi, attained martyrdom in 1962 during a battle in Arunachal Pradesh, which is known as ‘Last stand at Lha Gyala Gompa’.
(Courtesy: The Tribune)