My Days at Kedarnath- Puneet Bakshi
It was the evening of 16th, after 2days of non-stop downpour, that I finally saw a bit of clear sky. The news of landslides causing the destruction of road to Gaurikund had reached us. There was also some rumour of one Helicopter having swept away in the flood in another part of the state. The road connecting Phata to Gaurikund and, more importantly, to Guptkashi was also reported to be damaged and blocked by landslides. But Nothing prepared me for the devastation that I saw when I got Airborne early morning.
From Phata to Gaurikund , I could see that the road had been destroyed by landslides at many places. Vehicles and people seemed stranded but in no real danger on this road. But as I turned into the valley towards Gaurikund, the extent of damage started to become visible. At Gaurikund , The entire low lying parking lot , which generally was full of buses and cars , at least 300 -350 of them, was gone. The river had consumed it. The water level also looked much higher and violent.
Ahead of Gaurikund, the road on the left of the Valley was completely missing at several places. It was as if a huge chunk of the mountain had just come down on these sections of the road and taken the road away into the steep gorge that was the river.
I saw a lot of stranded mules in on the broken sections of the road, trapped from both sides, and just standing there ,abandoned after 2 days of rain. As I looked ahead , I found that the entire transit town of RamBada , which was our reporting point before turning left into kedarnath , had just vanished . It was an astonishing sight, as almost 2 to 2 square kms of low lying town of Rambada, which had these houses and sheds for the pilgrims , had just caved in and in its place was a violently flowing muddy river . The slopes at both sides of the valley had completely sunk in and taken away a whole town!
As I turned into the Garudchetty and towards the kedar temple, what I saw was complete devastation. The river originating from the glacier had divided into 2 streams and was flowing either side of the kedarnath town. The town itself had almost no building left standing, and the ground seemed to be littered with what looked like rags and rubble. As I went lower to have a look, I saw that what looked like rags and cloth were actually bodies of people, lying piled spread out on the ground all around. It was incredible. The Helipads were gone, and in its place was a river flowing violently. In the town, other than the temple, there were only a few roofs of tin that remained; all else had been blown away, as if by a cyclone!
On the two high ridges on either of Garudchetty,I could see some people waving from the ground, and a lot of other people just lying there exhausted and wet and without hope. It looked like the scene out of a Hollywood apocalypse movie!
Three days back on 14th, when flying over the same place, I had seen the clouds build up by the evening time. In fact towards the last week before the rains, the weather had been marginal on most days, with clouding appearing both at the valley mouth short of Gaurikund and towards Rambada. On many occasions, flying had to be stopped because of weather. However, since it was pre-monsoon season in the hills, as pilots we did expect this weather in the hills and constantly reminded ourselves to be wary of taking any risks in the valley with the clouds. In fact on 12thJun, I had checked the weather forecast on the net, and bad weather had been predicted in the forthcoming 3-4 days. All helicopter operators were aware of this.
After flying over the kedarnath town, it had become clear that there had been a lot of devastation. And yet, it was difficult to decide what to do next. There was nothing that remained of the helipad. Most of the land there was wet and undulating, and full of rubble. As I was flying alone, I decided to land close to a group of people on the high part of the ridge line on Garudchetty. The ground was sloping and wet and uneven, so after hovering a few feet over a patch, I gently lowered the helicopter to the ground. Before I could even look up, there was a stampede of people who had rushed towards the helicopter and were trying to break open the doors and get in. A huge fight broke out amongst them and, it was absolute mayhem. I had no choice but to lift up the chopper, before somebody raised a stick or threw something into the rotors, or went running into the tail rotor. The people here had become animals, grabbing and pulling each other back and trying to come in front and get into the chopper and fly to safety. It was the worse nightmare a pilot could have. Luckily, I managed to kick these people back and take off! I then went back to the helipad, picked up 2 of my crew of handlers, tough and rough young men , asked them to carry some stick for crowd control , and then flew them back to the same spot. .. This time I dropped them short of the group of people. As before, there was a stampede , but this time the guys in the front were confronted with these handlers , who pushed them back like animals, and finally got them to calm down and sent 6 people inside the chopper.
It had now become clear that the survivors of the devastation had become completely wild , having survived the trauma of death and devastation, and had a single point agenda , that of survival. In short , they were beyond reason now !
As I along with 4 other chopper pilots in the irmachines were the first to arrive at the scene of devastation, we decided to take a call on what to do. We decided that it was impossible to land the helicopter anywhere without someone on the ground to control the crowd of survivors. So after the first attempt of landing almost caused a crash, we decided to get back to the helipads and get our handlers and staff (volunteers) , drop them on ground and have some control of the survivors. We started coordinating the rescue work on the Radio between our 4 choppers. I decided to land at the Right Garudchetty ground, where the reappeared to be at least 500 people.
Although we had our ground Handlers in position by then , they were having a hard time keeping the people back from chopper . What followed after every such landing was absolute mayhem , and it was only providence that no one went into the rotors . As the ground was slippery and sloping, it was very difficult to keep the helicopter steady or level on ground , and I had to use all my skills to keep the machine “light on skids” on that slope. Slowly after a few landings , the grd handlers were able to get the survivors in some sort of discipline. We thus started a steady shuttle from this landing spot to ferry they survivors 6 at a time back to the helipads . The grd Handlers also managed to get the weaker , injured and the women ahead in the queue. Thus a steady rescue operation was set up .
By this time , almost all companies had launched their choppers for rescue , and thus we had 7 – 8 choppers in the valley at any given time . Yet through co ordination on RT , we were able to maintain safe distance from each other and yet carry out rescue work in sequence.
I, along with Capt Lal , who was flying a chopper belonging to another company ( UT Air), decided to explore and look for other landing places closer to the temple town. So I flew low and over what had been Kedarnath town . What I saw was horrendous . Bodies piled one on top of the other , bloated up and rotting all over . And yet there were survivors. These people had come out of the rubble alive , and were sitting there in groups, in despair.
I found a place on the left edge of the town ,close to a well , that seemed just about the minimum size required to land . So I landed there , and dropped my Handlers .. They arranged the people in the order of women and children first , and thus another recue place was designated, called “Temple Helipad “ The next 3 days there was a steady steam of choppers that evacuated these survivors to safety at helipad in Phata .
We had no funds for rescue material. In fact we had no rescue material. All we did was get the dying and injured out of the kedar valley and into the safety of Phata . Since the roads ahead of Phata were also blocked , there was no option for these survivors to go further . However, in the limited resources that we had available , we tried to take care of these survivors be for handing them over to the local medics.
The response of the state govt was actually so deplorable , it should have been reported. The State govt turned a blind eye to the disaster. In fact , the Govt authorities had known of the weather likely to be bad since 12 th . yet , no such warning was issued to the tourists at Kedar ! The only reaction that was worse than that of the sate govt was that of the Center Govt. On the first day of rescue, it was clear to all of us that there had been a massive tragedy and many thousands had died . Yet on the TV (Sat TV was still avbl) , The PM , Mr MMS was busy announcing the Cabinet Reshuffle !And the Home minister , Mr Shinde , was telling the press that due to excessive rains , 51 people had died in Uttrakh and! And he based his count on the number of bodies that came out of the river in Haridwar !
In a state where landslides and floods a real most annual events , that was an understatement to remember. No one was really worried about the fact that 2 days of continuous rain in such a region conducive to landslides could be disaster! Or that there were no plans of evacuation of that region in place with the existing equipment! It was only on the 3rd day after the rains stopped that the state govt finally arranged to get the Air Force to send its choppers, that too for a reccee !
These Choppers turned up after taking fuel from Deheradun , so by the time they were through with the initial recce , they were already running short of fuel and had to go back The army Choppers also turned up, with the same problem . I met the pilots on the helipad, and they told me how they had been scrambled in a hurry without any plan or strategy! What the state function arise didn’t not realise , or did not care to address was the fact that total endurance of a helicopter ( most types ) is between 2: 45 hrs to 3:00hrs . Which means that on a tank load of fuel, they can only fly for that much only . Also out of this they have to keep a reserve of at least 30 mins flying time to cater for any emergency. Out of the remaining 2 :15 hrs , 1:30 is spent just flying in from Deharadun and going back there. Which left them with only 45 min of flying for recon and casevac.. In fact they were severely constrained due to lack of any fuel at nearby stations in the first 2 days of their coming, which were the most crucial days as far as getting people out alive was concerned.
Luckily, the pvt Operators had already made some fuel storage on the helipads , and on a few instances , even provided fuel for the Air force dhruvs ( ALH) army Cheetahs . It was only after 20 Jun that these issues of fuel shortage and relief material were addressed.
It’s a sad fact that like most other redundant organisations in our country , NDMA and NDRF were more for the name than for any purpose. They turned up there in the jamboree after 4 days , and were equipped with nothing more than ropes and sticks . Most of these people looked thin and malnutrition, and without any specialised training. I remember an occasion when I had dropped one of my ground handlers, Mr Bisht, to a isolated patch of the road ahead of Gaurikund , and he was asking for a metal cutter ,so he could cut off the poles on the road side . The idea was to create enough space on the road to allow a helicopter to land and pick up about 1500 people who were stranded in that part. I landed in the base camp at Guptkashi and went personally to seek a metal cutter, which is like a kerosene torch that can cut pipes. Even though it was a rudimentary tool that most relief teams are supposed to have ,the NDRF had never heard of it. Upon asking what they did have , I was told Rope and a Walkie Talkie!
One of the other pilots , who was evacuating people out of the Kedar temple area , saw that there were many Sadhus in orange robes , who seemed quiet and quite calm , sitting at the end of the line and not making any attempts to come up to the chopper. Finally when their turn came, the Holy Man refused to let go of his bloated up “potli” and insisted that he would carry it on his lap and not in the cargo compartment of the chopper. The pilot alerted the state police authorities at the helipad at phata , and in their presence , this potli was opened. There were stacks of currency notes init which amounted to about 92 lakhs ! The Baba ji had nothing to say except that the money was flowing in the river , and so he had picked it up ! Similar instances of women carrying gold in kilos and claiming that it was all their jewellery , or other local guides caught with loot also came to the fore .
I had taken it upon myself to look for survivors who were stranded in difficult places from where the bigger choppers could not evacuate them. And I decided to take whatever risk I thought I could handle to land the chopper in these rock ledges and with only half of the skid in touch with the ground, and get these poor souls out. To this day , I do not know why I did that , take that much risk for absolute strangers . Maybe it was a higher calling , maybe it was a challenge that as a professional chopper Pilot , I knew I could not turn down, maybe it was the desperation in eyes of these people that egged me on , for most of them would not have survived another 24 hrs in the condition that they were in. I knew it was not for my desire to be proclaimed a hero , because I never talked about it to anyone then or since . In fact I refused to give Interviews to the Media that had come up to me , I was of the belief that in a time of such tragedy , there was work to be done which was more important than narrating tales of the rescue. All I knew was that the Adrenalin was pumping for those 4 days. I flew everyday from first light at 6 am to sunset , breaking all rules laid down by DGCA. I would only stop for lunch ,and when fatigue was overwhelming , I would take a 30 min rest and lie down on the ground to straighten my back.
And I was not the only one . There were at least a few other pilots like me , who flew like that , without any motivation other than that of doing their job. Capt Parminder , Capt Lal , Capt Bhatta, Capt Pummy, and the Pawan Hans Pilots . We all flew tirelessly all day ! I remember I could barely sleep more than 4 hrs in the night , and would be up by 4:30 , raring to go .
A bunch of us pilots were living in a 10 room hotel called Pinnacle Resorts. We would all get together in the evening taking about the experiences of the day and the plan for the next. I remember the moodbeing rather somber and quiet, till one of us would crack a particularly dirty joke , and that would sort of lighten things up , but only for a few minutes.The general feeling was that of sadness , mixed with anxiety and fear , for each one of us knew we were taking huge risk every day , landing in really tight places , in marginal conditions , and that sooner or later , our luck would run out, but none of us wanted to talk of this.
There was this one particular place , short of Rambada, where about 300 people had been stranded for 4 days . These people had survived by hanging on to the tree branches and stones in the 2 days of landslide an drain and they found themselves huddled up in a small 30 sq mt space that was a rock jutting out of the slope , and that had not fallen into the river in the landslide. They had no way of leaving this small place and were surrounded by dead bodies of fellow travelers and mules. I remember making a low pass and seeing them waving in hope. I knew it was a very tight spot, and it would be impossible to have the entire skid of the helicopter firm on the rock, , but I couldn’t ignore the desperate signals for help. So I decided to gingerly make an approach over this rock after getting my most reliable handlers on board.
One of the volunteer handlers was a young pilot like me, who was not yet experienced enough to fly as single pilot , and thus was looking to be of help in some way. I got into a low hover on whatever space was available on this rock, and asked these men to jump down. They did that , and started herding the desperate survivors into a tight bunch and pushed them back as faras they could to make space for the chopper to land. The margin of error for mewas not in feet , but in inches now . One gust of wind , or one wrong movement or twitch of the cyclic control , and the blades would touch either the rock slope and trees on the left or the heads of people huddled up in front. The sight of my handler, Mr Bisht , on his knees on the ground , waving the helicopter to creep forward in low hover inch by inch , without any fear or doubt of his own safety , will remain etched in my memory for ever . I shut down all other senses and was only concentrating on his hand directions, and I reluctantly moved the helicopter skid forward to a position where the machine could balance itself and wouldn’t fall backwards off the cliff when I lowered the collective. Bisht got the helicopter to move forward till it was practically 01 foot away from his face, all the while sitting on his haunches, holding his nerve and refusing to be blown back by the down wash of the rotors. One little error, and we would all have ended up killing each other.
Bisht is by far the bravest man I have ever had the privilege of meeting, in all my life! If ever I had to place my life in someone’s hand , it would be him. With his efforts ,I could take out the casualties , which included women and children in shock , or almost dead , to safety. I asked other helicopters on the radio to help me out in this effort,but no one was prepared to land there. In fact they told me its suicidal. Finally,one of the choppers flown by an old pilot instructor I knew from the Airforce decided to come to my aid , and managed to land there. However, after taking the first lot of casualties out , he had to switch off , as he could nottolerate the sight and stench of flesh and had to puke! Luckily, the other pilot of that company was also a very experienced man Capt Bhatanagar , and hetook over and thus between the two of us , we managed to save about 30 -350lives by taking them out one after the other. It took us practically the whole day of continuous flying to finish the job , between 3 helicopters. ( Capt Laljoined us mid way through as the third helicopter).
Towards the evening that day, I got a message from ITBP that a few casualties were stuck at a place a km or so away from this particular place , and some ITBP men had been tasked to carry them to thisparticular place from where we were evacuating these causalities. Since we hadtaken out everyone from that site already, and it was almost sunset , I hadswitched off my Helicopter and was looking forward to a welcome rest after 12hrs in the cockpit.
However, I said yes and positioned my Helicopter at Sirsi Helipad , waiting for news of these casualties reaching the landing site. Iremember getting a call at 1910 hrs that the casualties had reached . It wasalmost dark , so I hurried up and got Airborne . I had my friend , Vijeet onboard. I had picked up Vijeet from Garudchetty in my last sortie before Ilanded at Sirsi. The other Helicopter flown by Capt Bhatnagar , had already gotairborne from Heritage Helipad before me , and by the time I reached the site ,I was told on RT that he had taken out the casualties from there , and all Ihad to do was pick up his Engineer , and 02 ITBP personnel from this place ,and get them back. I landed and took the 03 people on board and was asked bythe ITBP men to drop them at Gaurikundhelipad , where there unit was. Since it was a relatively bigger ground at Gaurikundand it was manned by security personnel from ITBP and the Army on ground, Ithought it was a easy task, even though it was almost dark by then .I made anapproach for the ground at Gaurikund and I could see there was a large crowd ofabout 1500 odd people standing at the edges of that ground. However , theyappeared to be orderly and were being held back by ITBP Jawans . I landed atthe ground and asked the ITBP people to exit the helicopter. Just then I sawthe crowd , which had so far been held back ,suddenly erupt and break theshackles and rush towards the Helicopter in a mad frenzy. It was almost dark,and the crowd knew that this was probably the last helicopter that would flyout of there, and everyone wanted to be on it .By the time the 02 ITBP mencould get out, the crowd had reached the helicopter and were trying to forcetheir way in. Few of the men had grabbed the open door of the helicopter andwere pulling hard at it . Vijeet and the engineer tried their best to close thedoor from the inside ,but itseemed impossible. Just then I saw 2 boys rush to the right side of theHelicopter. They were trying to open the latch of the cargo compartment in therear and trying to get in there. It was a nightmarish situation. The Rotors ofthe helicopter were still at full rpm . I couldn’t switch off because then theblades would cone down and strike the heads of the people around. I couldn’tpick up the helicopter off the ground because people were holding on to the opendoor and trying to open the cargo hold. The ITBP and army were by now lathicharging the crowd , and all hell had broken loose. On the left , I saw a fatlady relentlessly pushing forward towards the helicopter. She was carrying asmall baby that had some sort of intravenous bottle attached. She was wailingat top of her voice, and in a sudden jerk forward with her torso , she threw the baby inside thechopper rear seat. Mercifully , the two people who had already managed to creepinto the rear seat by then caught the baby over their heads. I could wait no longer . I asked Vijeetand the Engineer to grab the door and kick everyone holding on to the chopper.I put my hand out on the right into the small vent window on the door andgrabbed the hair of the boy trying to get into the cargo hold , and violentlypushed him away. Then I picked up the helicopter in a sudden jerk. A few people were trying to hold on to the skid of the helicopter , but athey finally let go . I was in a hover at about 15 ft , when I saw that theright door of the helicopter swung open . The baby being held by the rightmostperson sitting behind was almost half out ! I knew that after takeoff , I had to make a sharp bank tothe right , as there was a tall tree ahead of me. The helicopter was hoveringunsteadily at maximum power , and I couldn’t take my hands away from thecontrols to reach out for the door handle. I asked Vijeet , who was seated nextto me , to un -strap and try to reach out for the door handle. He tried 3 times, but couldn’t reach it . Finally in his effort to lean forward , heunknowingly put his knee right on top of my left forearm that was holding theCollective control . I felt a seething pain on my left hand , but I could notallow the hand to loosen ,and the collective to go down by even by a bit, as wewere in a precarious hover. It took all my strength to freeze my left forearmin that position , as Vijeet took a huge lunge and grabbed the door handle .The baby was almost at the edge of the door , but luckily he was pulled in andthe door was latched shut .. Imanaged to takeoff without hitting anything nearby , and offloaded the casualtiesat GuptKashi.
Then I came back to Phata Pinacle helipad and landed and switchedoff .. I had given up smoking 2 years back ,when my little girls were born (twins ) , but I grabbed one that day and sat there 10 mins just cooling mynerves. I had almost crashed the Helicopter that day, and we were all justlucky to be alive. We just sat there completely exhausted staring blankly ateach other. There was nothing to say!
That evening, I stood under the shower for along time, trying to wash away the smell of excrement, decaying flesh, puke and urine, the smell of death, out of my person. But it just wouldn’t go away. I had a dream that night , in that dream a old wrinkled haunting woman sitting at the rear of a group of dying and injured people , all covering their heads with blankets. All except this lady who is leaning to one side and calling my name saying “Come to me , Hurry ” She has green eyes that looked like broken shards of a bottle.. It woke me up. I knew it was a warning that I had used up my luck…even though I must confess , I am an atheist and a complete non believer in any spiritual mumbo jumbo!
The next day , I promised myself I would take no more undue risks , just merely drop food packets on stranded crowds. And yet, mid way through my first food drop sortie , I spotted a group of 15 odd people waving to me from the ground , next to a 5 ft by 2 ft rock ledge! And ,well , I said “ here we go again”.
There was also the time later in that day whenthis Army Capt , who was on Garudchtty walked up to the chopper and said ,there are 5 people stranded next to a waterfall . So I took him on board andoff we went looking for this group. A strange sight greeted us. Right next to asmall water fall , on the large boulder lay bodies of 02 white Caucasian women, without a shard of clothing onthem , as if sunbathing ! They were slightly bloated in appearance, anddefinitely dead. 30 feet above onthe slope along the waterfall stream, was a cave , more an overhang of a largerock. Under it I could count 5 people , sitting , barely moving , but alive.And there was a Sadhu in saffron clothing that was with them ! As the slope wasvery steep , I could not land the helicopter . I asked the army capt to jumpdown 5 ft on to the rocks, and seeif he could carry them to the hovering chopper. meanwhile , I tried finding asuitable place where I could atleast put some part of the skid down .
However ,the winds were really strong , and the chopper was very unsteady . The Army Capt had meanwhile carried a motionless ladyon his back and brought her to the ledge near the chopper .. but even as hetried to push her up into the helicopter which was hovering 5 ft above the ground, the wind would make the helicopter unsteady. Much as I tried I could not holdthe machine still. We were right at the edge of the rocky slope , and it seemedtoo risky. I was running out of fuel . I didn’t want to leave the brave Captainalone here . So I went and picked up my friend Vijeet ( Again) from nearby Garudchetty right helipad ..and dropped him down at the same slope.
Meanwhile ,I gave a call to Airforce ALH that was flying , to winch up these people . W/CNaidu was flying the ALH , and he said he would attend to it . So I went backand switched off for refuelling. Yet I was a little guilty, as I had dropped 02of my boys there and wasn’t sure if they would be picked up . So afterrefuelling the Helicopter , I got airborne straight away and went looking forthem . I could not see them anywhere near the spot . I asked on RT to the ALHif he had winched them up , but he said No. I started looking even moredesperately on ground for them . I spotted the 02 naked ladies , but there wasno Sadhu , or any other person near that cave. I was a little worried till Ilanded at Pinnacle and was told that The chopper flown by Pawan Hans pilots (twin pilot config) was able to land and pick up all the casualties and our twoboys. I was relieved , but also a little embarrassed . How had they managed toland when I was unable to even hover there ! Pilots are a competitive lot ,even though we would never admit it . That evening I met Vijeet and he told me what had happened . AfterI had left them there , they busied themselves picking up large stones andmaking a sort of level surface for the chopper to land. Apparently , the sadhu had superhuman strength , as he liftedreally heavy rocks despite his slight frame. After they had managed to makesome sort of a flat surface they waved at the chopper flying ,who then spottedthem and landed here and got the casualties out .
There are countless other similar stories thathappened in those 4-5 days of rescue work there . In some way , it was like theWild-West of helicopter flying . Never, not even in a war, and I have beenin Kargil war , had so much freehand been given for pilots to do such work. It was only your own fear ,will andskill that could limit you in these circumstances. In a way , the one positive thing to come out of all this wasthe efforts of my colleagues , who selflessly , and without fear to their ownlives , rose to the occasion and performed the acts of heroes . And yet , neversaid a word of this to the press or media for publicity. There is still hope inour society.
Yet all were not in the same spirit. There werethe not so brave, and there were the selfish, publicity whores, and the meek old Dinos that covered up their secret fear and lack of skill by announcing their names everywhere. Capt “D” was one such gent. A character study of an a#$#%le, if u ask me.
Announcing loudly on RT that Airforce needs to send help , and this and that , and his name of course , and then landing meekly at the widest of all landing grounds , from where there was no need to pick up anyone , as the Mi-17 was operating from there. Capt “B” was another, the media whore Visible everywhere for sound-bytes and video coverage and missing in any meaningful rescue. There were others, Capt “C” , the wheeler dealer , who was busy trying to arrange ferries for rich passengers trapped in the fiasco directly to Delhi , for an undisclosed price of course . But then it takes all kinds to make the world,And really you don’t really know what you yourself are made up of , till youface a choice in a real hard situation like this.
For me , personally , this was the best of timeand the worst of time , to borrow a phrase. I saw more gore here than I dideven in the military. Blood, and flesh and death and tragedy and completedevastation. But it was also the time I got to use all my skills that I hadacquired in years and years of training , and put it finally to some good use .
It was a troubling, in more ways than one. I remember people, perched on deadbodies of other travellers and mules, babies and women, crying weeping, wailingscreaming for help. And I saw then leap and jump over each other trying to savethemselves before the other by trampling the weaker under their feet and makinga mad rush for the rescue chopper. I also saw these same people , within hoursof their extraction, turning back and asking quietly how much I would take tonow fly them back to Dehradun or Delhi, and forget about the others left behind! And I heard this story from the manager of Pinacle Resorts , Mandeep , abouthow one of the people who was rescued came up to him to say “ Ab Bas Ek BottleChivas Mil Jaye celebrate karne ke liye , main aap ko 10000 Rs doonga!” Didthese people really deserve being saved , at such great peril to self ? And ofcourse, ther was the local DistrictMagistrate , who appeared on the 21st Jun, merely 5 days after , andstood there on the helipad looking important , surrounded by his cronies , andhad the audacity to send one of his chokarraas to ask , “Saab ke liye kuch ChaiPaanika intezam karoo!” .
And the Media, that was reporting 51 casualtiesas announced by the Home Minister , Mr Shinde and turned up here only after the4 th day , immediately showing the wrath of the gods as its NEWS and the Heroictales of the Fauji Bhai , who once again came to the rescue here , whenactually what they were trying to was cover up on their own lethargy and theGovt’s absolute cluelessness in the first crucial days of the aftermath.
I flew Back home on 22ND Jun afternoon. Landed at Delhi Palam , parked the aircraft , and took the company cab home.My wife hadn’t heard from me for over 5 days . All she saw was the devastationon TV. My Phone was unreachable in this time, as the services at Phata villagehad been disrupted. Luckily, she knew one of the Air Force Pilot she saw on TVfrom before the time I had quit, and had his mobile number. He was in Dehradunand was reachable. Since he had met me at the valley during this RescueOperation, he had told her that I was safe.
I got a teary hug from her, and my 2 baby girlscame running to my arms and cooed DAADDY. It was a good homecoming, and I wasexhausted. I spent most of the next 3 days just sleeping off the fatigue. Inthe evening, I turned on the TV and the News was full of stories of the rescueand devastation at Uttrakhand. Most of the News reporters were shouting outloud on the screens about how their channel was the first to get “exclusive”coverage of the devastation of Kedarnath . Along with that was a lot ofgrandstanding on screen by the field reporters about how difficult it had beenfor them to reach there and how they were bearing the rough time of living 01night in a tent in the cold at Kedarnath towns ruins. One particular “story “by the ZEE TV reporters was so laughably pansy and exaggerated; I switch off theTV in disgust. Such gall, to turn up after 4 days, and become Heroes on theirown News Channel! Glorious storiesof valour and the tireless rescue of Armed Forces Helicopter Pilots and NDRFpersonnel, and interviews of very concerned State Ministers and Centralministers were flashed continuously on all news channels. Great debates wereorganised on TV shows in the coming days , discussing if enough is being doneby the Govt , and how people were coming forward with charity and help for theaffected . Song and dance shows were organised by Bollywood and the Glamindustry, to “raise funds” for the relief. Tributes were paid to the dead and prayers were organised tobring peace to their soul. And yet, no question was asked about why no oneturned up at “ground zero” for the first 03 days after the disaster. Why didthe state govt not react to the situation immediately, and who was toblame? Why was all credit of therescue been given to the Fauji Bhai , whereas the Private Helicopter Companieswere being quietly told to not raise the issue and just take the payment forthe hours flown in the rescue.
More importantly, why wasn’t any credit of whatI did being given to me, without my asking or advertising it? True that I hadturned down interviews with the TV guys at that time, as I was busy gettingpeople out alive from valley, but wasn’t it apparent to them? I had risked my life and limb, and a $ 3million Helicopter repeatedly to save lives of people, tirelessly , and without any compulsion to do so , in the time that rescue was really needed. What troubled me was not that I wasn’t proclaimed a Hero, but that I was angry aboutit now. I was troubled when the media made someone else the Hero for thatwork. And hence the question, am Inot as shallow as the rest of them, secretly seeking fame, the publicity, theBravery Medal! Was my motivation really that shallow when I flew those sorties?Was that the adrenalin rush,that pushed me to risk all, to fly like a tirelessdemon? Did I really care for thesepeople that I tried to get out alive? Did any one really? Does empathy for afellow human being really overwhelm anyone, or is it that in it lies disguised ahidden desire of being declared a hero , an extraordinary man, that the worldmust admire and praise. Then wasn’t the completely selfish, self –publicisingperson more honest somehow. This has bothered me and it still does, thisthought… and that green eyed old woman of my dream !
P.S : In the KedarNath Rescue operations , 04 helicopters crashed in the space of 30 days killing 22 people , including 04 Pilots , 03 crew members ..and while one pilot survived with injuries.