Being Human

Indian Air Force’s HADR missions continue to expand

Younis Ahmad Kaloo

On September 14 this year, the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out its latest task as part of its humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operation by airlifting tonnes of relief material to Bangladesh, which is witnessing a surge in Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar. India acted like a good friend and neighbour and under Operation Insaniyat, offered help to Bangladesh to deal with the humanitarian crisis. Since late August, nearly 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh.

Relief material being unloaded at Guptkashi

The IAF positioned at short notice one of its C-17 Globemaster strategic heavy lift cargo aircraft in Delhi on September 13 to airlift 55 tonnes of relief material comprising daily necessities like rice, pulses, sugar, salt, cooking oil, ready-to-eat-meals, mosquito nets, and other important items. The aircraft was loaded overnight and flew early morning on September 14 to Kolkata to pick up additional material, which was then delivered in Chittagong in Bangladesh the same day. As scheduled, another C-17 aircraft followed with additional relief material to the country.

As one of its peacetime roles, the IAF assists the civil administration in dealing with natural calamities which demand immediate rescue and relief. “History shows that HADR is a capability that we (IAF) have been displaying for about 20 years now, starting largely with the Tsunami disaster in 2004,” says Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd).

When a 9.1 undersea earthquake on 26 December 2004 produced devastating waves, as high as 65-100ft across the world, India became one of the 14 countries affected. Of about 2,28,000 people killed in the Tsunami-hit countries, over 18,000 people lost their lives in India alone. The plight did not end there as the Tsunami threw thousands of people into life-and-death situation in island territories and the coastal states of the country, hence the immediate need of rescue and relief operations.

The IAF swung into action after receiving a distress message at its base in Chennai from Car Nicobar Air Force Base located at the Car Nicobar island of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The message offered an inkling of what Tsunami was inflicting: ‘MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, Chennai, Chennai, Chennai this is Victor Juliet Golf on ground at Carnicobar. Carnicobar hit by a severe earthquake and flooding of the island by tidal waves. Island is sinking, request immediate rescue and relief’.

According to the IAF, two AN-32 aircraft were immediately put on alert in Southern Air Command Headquarter and other Commands Headquarters were also instructed to keep their aircraft in readiness for the expected rescue relief and casualty evacuation operations. Subsequently, the first and second AN-32 aircraft flew for Car Nicobar at 10am and 10:26am respectively on the very day the Tsunami struck with refuelling stops at Tambaram and Port Blair. In addition, a Do-228 aircraft was also flown from Port Blair for a first-hand assessment of the situation.

But, as the magnitude of the disaster became clear, the IAF had to bring in additional aircraft besides the already operating fleets of AN-32, AVRO, and Do-228. With only two IL-76 aircraft available for relief work, two IL-78 aircraft were also pressed into service after their de-modification. In total, four Do-228s, four AVROs, seven IL-76s, 15 AN-32s and 16 helicopters were pressed into action for the relief and rescue operations for Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Sadly, yet, 116 people, including officers, staff and family members lost their lives on the Car Nicobar Air Force Base.

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