RESCUE OF FLOOD VICTIMS : BY BELL- 407 HELICOPTER
The incessant rains that began on 01 Sept in Jammu &
Kashmir and continued till 07th Sept resulted in unprecedented
floods affecting the entire State. The deluge led to the river
Jhelum bursting its banks on the night of 06th Sept and flooded the
State Capital Srinagar. The entire State Machinery with its
personnel, infrastructure and equipment was inundated.
AERIAL VIEW OF SRINAGAR ON 06 SEPT
On instructions from Chief Minister asking the Civil
Aviation Dept to see how the helicopters could be utilised in
response to this calamity. On getting a green signal Gp Capt
Indranil Bhattacharya & Gp Capt Samir Kaul immediately set to work.
After due deliberation it was decided that the Bell helicopter would
be modified and rescue of marooned victims attempted. As the city
was completely submerged there was no place for the Helicopter to
land. Also, given the mob-like frenzy amongst the victims it was not
possible to descend low over any gathering as it would have surely
resulted in injury to the people. After considering many options one
door 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 roof tops and pull them up physically, if possible or
drop food packets (Water, Milk, Banana & 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.
BELL 407 CONFIGURED WITH DOOR REMOVED AND
HELPER STRAPPED UP
The Pilots, Gp Capts Bhattacharya & Kaul along with
helper Ct Javaid after thorough briefing set out to undertake the
mission. The crew had to innovate and think each situation through.
The Air Force training, years of flying in varied roles and
exceptional skills had to be called upon to rescue victims from atop
The areas from where rescue mission was carried out were
primarily, the localities of Indranagar, Rajbagh, Shivpura, Tulsi
bagh, Gogji bagh, area adjoining Civil Secretariat, Batmaloo and
Hotel Management training institute (Rajbagh) etc. The victims
rescued comprised women, children, elderly and tourists. In a
colossal effort testing man & machine, over the four day period from
08 to 11 Sept, 149 sorties (To & From) were flown, wherein, 261
victims were pulled to safety from rooftops by the Bell helicopter.
This is an unprecedented act of daring, gallantry, exceptional skill
and complete dedication to rescue the victims of this calamity.
AERIAL VIEW OF THE AREA OF RESCUE,
The pilots had to use all their skill, judgement,
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 & 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 & food (Bananas, biscuits & 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.
VICTIMS BEING RESCUED FROM ROOFTOPS
There were a number of cases of families that were marooned that
were re-united over the course of two/ three days, being rescued by
this single helicopter. In one unique case, after all family members
were picked up from one rooftop in two sorties the grown up son
refused to be rescued, as he wanted to stay back & safeguard his
family home. This family literally broke down and refused to leave
the airfield. However, the next morning while carrying out rescue in
the vicinity, pilots saw the young man frantically waving out to be
rescued. He was eventually picked up and re-united with his hysteric
family. Many similar events occurred in this short span of time
which felt like weeks.
VICTIMS TRYING TO REACH THE
HELICOPTER FROM ROOFTOPS
The pilots flew with complete disregard to personal
comfort, rest and inherent personal safety issues. Pilots had to
abandon the Helipad complex as more than 12000 stranded citizens
were provided shelter, food & succour at the Helipad till eventually
being flown out to Srinagar Airport. 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.
VICTIMS BEING GIVEN SHELTER IN THE STATE HANGAR
The entire team of civil aviation department including Pilots had to
live away from their home and operate from the airport hangar
without any basic amenities. They even had to eat the food that was
scavenged from available leftover bananas & biscuits that they were
dropping as there was no food or water available anywhere. People
were being flown out from the very area where technicians, ground
crew & Pilots were living without any power supply, food or any
other support system.
The Bell helicopter was also utilised to transport essential &
critical Medical stores to district headquarters to help the medical
authorities to attend to critical cases at their locations. This
helicopter proved its versatility by flying Government officials to
the Airport from makeshift helipads, assess the flood situation by
carrying out aerial reconnaissance, survey of the flood channels to
provide relief and rescue, create a virtual air-bridge between the
State Crisis Management Centre to the Srinagar Airport. This was
made possible by the combined & dedicated effort of the technicians,
Srinagar ATC controllers, support staff and crew, but most
importantly the Pilots & the Machine. The Bell 407 undoubtedly
proved its versatility in being able to sustain such an intensive &
demanding flying effort.
The situation demanded precision flying of a very high
order, wherein, the helicopter had to be kept in steady hover within
inches of the roof tops with no margin for error.
Due to the large number of towers, poles, cables and other
obstructions, any minor error in judgement and control would have
resulted in certain accident. The intense concentration and constant
demand on highest skill levels, generated immense pressure on the
pilots to execute the task. This flying, sustained over 149 sorties
was possible only due to the sheer determination, inner motivation,
extreme endurance and drive, well beyond the call of duty by the two
For a non-military, civilian helicopter, not configured
with any rescue equipment like winch etc, this act of rescuing 261
victims, over four consecutive days, and that too from rooftops,
pulling them physically by hand, may well be an unprecedented