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Friday, May 20, 2022

Art street: Resting in Mumbai’s Bandra is the last of Navy’s Sea Harrier jet fighters

The Sea Harrier first entered service with the Indian Navy on December 16, 1983. When they were decommissioned, they were replaced by the MiG-29K.

Written by Benita Fernando | Mumbai |
April 30, 2022 2:55:25 pm
India became the second country to fly the Sea Harrier when the jet fighter was inducted along with the aircraft carrier INS Viraat.

On May 11, 2016, the Indian Navy bid adieu to its Sea Harrier jet fighters, famous for their vertical take-off and landing. Meant only for the most experienced and confident pilots, they were not easy to manoeuvre and were associated with a significant number of accidents. Yet, for many like Peter deSouza, it was simply love at first sight.

A Bandra-based photographer and former banker, deSouza (57), can now view the Sea Harrier every day if he wishes to. When the Navy retired the reconnaissance-and-attack aircraft, the last one to fly found a final resting place by the Bandstand promenade in Bandra.

India became the second country to fly the Sea Harrier, built by British Aerospace, when the jet fighter was inducted along with the aircraft carrier INS Viraat. The Sea Harrier first entered service with the Indian Navy on December 16, 1983. When they were decommissioned, they were replaced by the MiG-29K.

The director of Bandra’s Inter-School Republic Day (BIRD) parade, deSouza was hoping for a military monument in the area. There had been some talk of a tank, but he heard from the Navy that a Sea Harrier was available. “I had seen it fly only once and was mesmerised. The aircraft can fly backwards or sideways or hover in the air like a spacecraft,” he said. Having done photography work for the Navy, with special memories of shooting the Sea Harrier, the aircraft was of particular interest to deSouza, who even has a miniature model of it at home. He brought together different bodies to make the memorial happen.

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Dedicated to Mumbai, the monument was installed by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in December 2020, overseen by Captain Paresh Kowli of the Navy. The Sea Harrier at Bandstand weighs 4.5 tonnes, without its engine and equipment, and spans 25 feet by 45 feet.

While Sea Harriers were based out of Goa, they often operated from INS Viraat, once the world’s longest-serving warship. Based in Mumbai, INS Viraat had a long association with the city and, by extension, the Sea Harriers do, too.

Bandra corporator Asif Zakaria said, “It is a sense of prestige and pride for the citizens to see what all the Indian Navy does.”

Designed by architect Rinka D’Monte, the park where the Sea Harrier Monument is located includes a historic bench, erected in memory of businessman-philanthropist Byramjee Jeejeebhoy in 1902. Jeejeebhoy built the road that runs parallel to the sea at Bandstand, simply called a “sea-side road” then, at his own expense and opened it to the public in the late 1800s. The park is at a lower level than the road, which increased in height with the passing years, but still offers a chance to sit and view an aircraft that once commanded the sea opposite.

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