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44 squadron of IAF named 'Flying Messiah'
September 22, 2005 11:56 IST
Logging 25 hours of flying across continents to land relief material for the victims of the recent Katrina Hurricane disaster in New Orleans in United States, the 44 Squadron of the IAF has now been named India's "Flying Messiah" for international disasters.
The Nagpur-based squadron of Russian acquired IL-76 medium lift transport aircraft is no stranger to disasters having already flown mercy missions to Sri Lanka and Indonesia during last year's Tsunami disaster, rescuing men and providing succour to avalanche victims in Kashmir as well SOS missions to quake-affected Iran.
A IL-76 aircraft of the squadron piloted by Group Captain Rajat Sharma, has just returned after flying 22 tonnes of specialised relief material ranging from blankets, tarpaulins to personal hygiene kits to victims of the Katrina hurricane disaster, which the pilot said was 'graciously accepted by the US authorities'.
"We have been in the thick of mercy missions and the government has now earmarked the seven IL-76 strong squadron as disaster relief contingent," Sharma, who is the Commanding Officer of the squadron, said.
Braving three minor hurricane storms en route, the aircraft carrying Indian relief landed at the Little Rock Air Force base in the US on September 13 and US service personnel of the base took just 45 minutes to manually offload the relief material with an acknowledgment of 'gracious appreciation of India's gesture'.
"The relief material was then flown by helicopters to New Orleans to avoid air congestion to the disaster-affected metropolis," Sharma said.
This was the first-ever relief mission flown by Indian authorities to the US and worked out in coordination by the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Defence on the Indian side and the US State department.
Disaster missions are not the only forte of 44 squadron fliers; they have taken part in Operation Cactus on Maldives in 1989 flying paratroopers in the thick of night to save the island leadership from marauding Sri Lankan Tamil guerillas.
Recently, one of the Squadron's aircraft flew almost the entire Afghan leadership to Kabul after the ouster of Taliban post 9/11 in 2001.
The Squadron was called in to fly tons of bleaching powder to flood-hit Mumbai to help the city fight an outbreak of epidemic.
"We have been based in Nagpur and require just 12 hours notice to fly within and outside India on mercy missions," Sharma said.