Kargil Vijay Diwas

K. Nachiketa - The Hero Who Was Prisoner Of War But Is Still An IAF Pilot

ANANYA BHATNAGAR | 1
4720
| July 26 , 2018 , 01:19 IST

The Heart Of A Pilot Is Always In The Cockpit
- Group Captain Kambampati Nachiketa

Group Captain K. Nachiketa who is the recipient of the Vayu Sena Medal and is currently an Indian Air Force transport pilot was one among the key names during the Kargil War of 1999.

The then Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa was an Indian Air Force fighter pilot who went for an air mission during the Kargil War but due to unfortunate circumstances and fierce combat his aircraft malfunctioned and he was taken a prisoner of war.

A Prisoner Of War But Still An IAF Pilot

On 27 May 1999, Nachiketa was authorized to fly as a wingman in a two aircraft live rocket firing mission over enemy camp during Operation Safed Sagar carried out by the Indian Airforce to support the Indian Army.

During the sortie, after a successful attack, he noticed that his aircraft engine had flamed out. He was flying low in the hilly terrain and it warranted abandoning of the aircraft by resorting to ejection.

Going beyond the convention, he controlled the aircraft promptly, jettisoned the external loads and carried out an auto relight of the engine but since the aircraft was losing height and Auto Relight was taking time, he ejected only as it was the last resort.

After ejecting, he found himself in the enemy territory. When he saw enemy troops approaching him, he fired at them and in the meantime took all precautions to take cover and destroy all the confidential information that he had with him.

Despite his desperate attempt to escape at high altitude he was dominated by a large number of enemy personnel and taken a prisoner of war. He resisted all attempts of harassment and torture both physical and mental but the braveheart refused to divulge even a single piece of military information.

Nachiketa’s brutal treatment stopped only when a senior officer ordered his men to back off. Citing the incident he told an Indian news channel, "The aggressive jawans who had captured me were trying to manhandle me and maybe trying to kill me, because, for them, I was just an enemy pilot who had fired at them from the air. Fortunately, the senior officer who came was very mature. He realized the situation, that I was now a captive and I need not be handled that way."

He further added, “Personally, I was aware I may not see a tomorrow back in India, but the hope was always there – that I would be back someday.”

The then fighter pilot remained a Prisoner of War in Pakistan till June 3, 1999, when he was handed back to the country after immense pressure by the Indian government and national and international media.

Currently, Nachiketa is a Group Captain who continues to fly giant Ilyushin Il-78 and AN-24 mid-air refueling transport aircrafts for IAF Squadrons. Although he misses flying fighter aircrafts, this inspiring hero believes that flying in any form is equally challenging.

For his acts of exceptional courage and valor in the presence of the enemy, the Hon'ble President awarded him with  Vayu Sena Medal.

Operation Safed Sagar 

Operation Safed was the code name assigned to the Indian Air Force's strike to support the Ground troops during Kargil war which was aimed to flush troops of the Pakistani Army from the actuated Indian Positions in the Kargil sector along the Line of Control.

The choppers used were Mi-8 and the Mi-17. The transport planes were Avro, An-32 and IL-76 and fighter jets were MiG 21 and MiG 27.

Flying from the Indian airfields of Srinagar, Avantipur and Adampur, ground attack aircraft MiG-21s, MiG-23s, MiG-27s, Jaguars and the Mirage 2000 struck insurgent positions. On May 30th Armed initially with 250 kg "dumb" bombs, No. 7 Squadron led by Wing Cdr Sandeep Chabra on the Mirage 2000 for three days, struck infiltrator positions in Muntho Dhalo, Tiger Hill and Point 4388 in the Drass Sector.