Sunday, May 1, 2011

Surviving a missile and an Air Marshal

Air Commodore SC Chafekar takes over as the Air Officer Commanding of 12 Wing in Chandigarh on Monday, the 2nd May. He is the second Commanding Officer of 48 Squadron who takes over as the AOC Chandigarh in succession. But what brings to mind is his remarkable escape, first when the AN-32 which he was co-piloting was shot at and damaged by the Pakistan Army near Kargil, and his subsequent escape from efforts to blame him for the fiasco.
At that point of time Wg Cdr Chafekar was attempting the first landing by a fixed wing aircraft at the newly established airfield in Kargil in 2002.

Let's recall that unfortunate incident in slight detail. As is the wont in this country, any important event has to be hijacked by the powers-that-be. And so this pioneering flight to Kargil had to have the then AOC-in-C, Western Air Command, Air Marshal VK Bhatia, on it. But the Air Marshal was not satisfied by being just the passenger on board. Or for that matter being just a co-pilot. He took over as the Captain of the aircraft and Wg Cdr Chafekar became the co-pilot. Flt Lt V Awasthy was the navigator. On approach to the runway, which was a bit tricky and since the Air Marshal was not familiar flying in this area, the aircraft strayed over to the other side of the LoC and was fired upon by a Pakistan Army unit with a missile which hit one engine.

The aircraft managed to land in Leh and the incident was kept under wraps for a few days. I was then working with the Hindustan Times in Chandigarh and found out about it a couple of days later. My Editor asked me to double check on it and by the time I did so, Gaurav Sawant, then working with Indian Express broke the story.

I was packed off to Leh in double time and what followed was a series of stories with Lt Gen Arjun Ray, the then GOC 14 Corps, saying a couple of things about Air Marshal Bhatia, on record. He was peeved with initial attempts by the Air Marshal to try and fix the blame on friendly fire from Indian Army on peaks around Kargil. I enjoyed doing the stories because Lt Gen Ray could be quite colourful when he wanted to prove a point. Ultimately, he stopped only when the Army Chief asked him to pipe down in interest of harmony among sister services and I got another story to do in Leh. The shooting of LoC-Kargil, the JP Dutta movie on Kargil conflict had started and Lt Gen Ray's son was an Assistant Director in the movie. So Dutta had all the facilities of the 14 Corps at his disposal (also with Army HQs permission) and I had access to an exclusive story. Both, Lt Gen Ray and me, were happy to move on from Chafekar-Bhatia episode.

But to come back to the main story, there were unfortunate attempts to frame Wg Cdr Chafekar and to insinuate that it was he who had erred. But Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy, the then Air Chief, intervened and made sure the Court of Inquiry made the right recommendations. Wg Cdr Chafekar, thus escaped through the skin of his teeth, while Air Marshal Bhatia was sent at a significantly lower post of Inspector General Flight Safety while retaining his perks and privledges as a C-in-C. Interesting to note that someone who violated flight safety was made in-charge of it. But that's another story.

And so Wg Cdr Chafekar went on to become Gp Capt, command a squadron in Chandigarh, made some more pioneering landings in DBO, Fukche and Nyoma and now comes back as Air Cmde to the same station.

Here's wishing him more safe landings.



  2. Thanks a ton Mr Chhina. I am sure you must have confirmed that it is ok to release this information now. Air Commodore S C Chafekar and his family had to go through a lot during the post episode blame game. It was his courage, integrity and faith that helped him in those tough times. These details were needed to be told, so thanks once again for putting it out via blog.

  3. A load of bull shit. The truth is very different. But then, who wants to know the truth??