Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Bombay
"I could see the missile fired on my plane, I took the plane away immediately," says Captain C M Edekar, commander of the Air-India aircraft that was fired upon last Monday when it was flying over Somalia.
"The passengers' safety was topmost in my mind. I did not reveal the incident to the passengers," the pilot told rediff.com Edekar refused to provide further information, saying the authorities had asked him not to discuss the incident. He did not inform air traffic control in Somalia about the missile, but reported the encounter to India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation. The DGCA has said it is investigating the matter.
On the night of July 23, the Air-India Airbus 310, on its way to Bombay from Nairobi, was cruising at 33,000 feet when Edekar spotted the missile hurtling towards his aircraft.
It is not clear if the missile was deliberately fired at the Air-India aircraft.
A bitter civil war has raged in Somalia for well over a decade. Indian soldiers were part of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force stationed in the African nation. The Indian army lost 14 troops, including Lieutenant Colonel Chittranjan Panda, the senior-most army officer to be killed in peacekeeping operations.
A fleet of Indian Air Force Cheetah missile helicopters was deployed in Somalia in addition to the 66 (Independent) Infantry Brigade consisting of soldiers from the 1 Bihar, 5 Mahar, 2 JAK Light Infantry regiments, 3 Mechanised Infantry Battalion, a squadron of 7 Cavalry, 8722 Light Battery, 6 Reconnaissance and Observation Flight.
The troops killed in action include Lt Col Panda, Major Satya Prasad Dutta, Major Kishan Lal, Subedar Ganga Ram, Havildar Ashok Kumar Singh, Lance Naik Birpal Singh, Lance Naik Sadgar Singh, Lance Naik Theophil Tiru, Lance Naik Bikram Tudu, Lance Dafedar Sukhwinder Singh, Sepoy Devendra Chand, Sepoy Ram Lal Gupta, Sepoy Ram Lal Patel and Rifleman Sat Pal Sharma.
General Mohamed Farah Aideed, one of the warlords who began the civil war in Somalia, was his nation's ambassador to India in the 1980s. American troops, also part of the UNPKF, hunted Aideed for months; finally, one battle with the Somalis, on October 3, 1993, killed 18 American soldiers. President Bill Clinton ordered an American withdrawal soon after. The October 1993 incident is now the subject of (Gladiator, Hannibal) director Ridley Scott's latest film, Black Hawk Down, produced by Pearl Harbour producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
After Mohammad Aideed's assassination in August 1996, his son Hussain -- a former US marine -- now runs his the Somali National Alliance militia.
Additional reportage: Josy Joseph
EXTERNAL LINKS SOURCED FROM REDIFF SEARCH:
The Stinger Threat to Commercial Aviation
From Permanent Conflict to More Peacefulness?
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