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June 4, 1999
Nachiketa is raring to go on next sortie
Eight days in Pakistani captivity have failed to dampen the spirits of Flt Lt K Nachiketa, who was handed over to the Indian authorities at the Wagah joint check post this evening.
''I am ready for the next sortie'', the pilot of the MiG-27 fighter jet which went down in the Kargil sector last month, quipped in a voice choked with emotion. In brief comments to the media, Nachiketa said, "I am not a hero, but a soldier. Every soldier in Kargil would have done just what I did."
Air Vice Marshal Sashi Tyagi, along with senior officers of the air force, army and Border Security Force were present at the border to welcome Nachiketa with bouquets and garlands.
The flight lieutenant was brought to the Pakistani side of the check post in two cars belonging to the Indian high commission at Islamabad at 1700 hrs.
He was accompanied by J N Rai, a senior high commission officer, group captain S K Jaswant, and Captain Srikant, the air and naval attaches at the high commission.
The Indian officials, after signing the necessary release documents on the Pakistan side of the JCP accompanied Nachiketa to the zero line and put him in the safe custody of the Indian officers at 1715 hours.
As soon as he crossed the zero line Air Vice-Marshal Tyagi shook the flight lieutenant's hand and handed him a bouquet of flowers.
Brig S Arora, representing the 15th Infantry division-incharge of the Amritsar sector was the next to greet the air force officer who was dressed in a half sleeve shirt and grey trousers.
The flight lieutenant, with his head held high, told waiting reporters in a choked voice: ''I am fine and happy to be home'' as soon as he crossed the border line.
The officer was immediately escorted to the BSF meeting hall where he was offered tea before being taken to Raja Sansi airport, from where he was flown to New Delhi. At the capital, he spend 15 minutes with the defence minister, George Fernandes, and is currently meeting the prime minister and President.
Air Vice-Marshal Tyagi, who had flown to Wagah from the national capital, accompanied the flight lieutenant back to Delhi in an air force plane.
When the air force convoy was leaving the JCP, a large number of spectators, who had come to witness the retreat ceremony shouted 'India zindabad, Nachiketa zindabad'.
The flight lieutenant, who managed an occasional smile when talking to mediapersons and his fellow officers, appeared surprised by the fairly large number of people who had come to welcome him home.
Besides defence officials and those of the district administration and the Punjab police, a number of Akali and BJP leaders were also present.
The Punjab government was represented by the assembly deputy speaker Dr Baldev Chawla who offered the released officer a bouquet.
Some of the political leaders were initially competing with each other to offer a bunch of flowers to him but relented on the intervention of the BSF officials incharge of the security at the JCP.
When questioned about his treatment at the hands of Pakistan, Nachiketa said it was fine but he refused to go into any further details.
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