It was supposed to be Captain E Samuel’s last flight on Tuesday night. His family was excited about his plans to shift to his hometown in Kerala after retiring on November 30. However, all plans are now on hold as Samuel is yet to return home.
A massive search and rescue operation is under way to find Samuel and Captain TK Guha, the two pilots who continue to be missing at sea after their Pawan Hans chopper crashed off Bombay High on the night of November 4.
“It doesn’t feel right to speak about him…and remember him…because we don’t know where he is. We are still very optimistic,” said a cousin of Samuel at their Santacruz residence.
According to another relative, the operations unit of Pawan Hans has been updating the family of the latest developments post the crash. “The family is holding up alright for now, although his wife has been in shock,” a relative said.
Samuel lives with his wife and has two daughters, one of whom resides in the US. According to Pawan Hans officials, Samuel had completed more than 30,000 flying hours.
“Samuel had reached the retirement age of 60. It was his last flight on November 4 and then this happened. He has taught so many captains passionately…this is beyond unfortunate,” said an official who visited the family.
According to a Coast Guard statement, “Around 7.15 pm, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre received information from Coast Guard Dornier on a surveillance sortie off Offshore Development Area ditching a Pawan Hans Dauphin Helicopter AS 365 N3 with two persons on board at sea near ONGC Platform SLQ 80 miles west of Mumbai.”
According to ONGC, it was a non-revenue chopper to train pilots who are required to complete mandatory hours as per DGCA requirement to maintain the validity of licence for night flying.
Sources said Samuel was sitting in the co-pilot seat and instructing Guha. “They had taken off and landed at the designated spot twice, but it was on their third attempt to take off that the incident took place,” an official said.
“We have been told the chopper came down like a ball of fire,” a relative added. The third floor where the Samuels live had lots of visitors through the day. While family members are flying in from the Gulf, Goa, Delhi and Kerala, his neighbours still recollect Samuel’s evening routines.
“Everyone remembers it so clearly. I guess just last evening he and his wife were seen walking their pug. He was holding his wife’s hand,” said a neighbour.
On Thursday evening, officials confirmed sections of fuselage, including a part of the tail, of the crashed Dauphin N3 helicopter, had been recovered. The Navy has received a request from Pawan Hans Ltd for assistance in location of the submerged debris/fuselage. Additional assets with suitable equipment are being deployed for searching and locating the same.
The operation will depend on assessment of underwater structures, said a Naval spokesperson. Coast Guard vessel Samudra Sevak, which was put on search operation, picked on the echo of Emergency Locator Transmitter transmission 2.7 Nm south-west from the suspected crash site. Coast Guard offshore patrol vessel Vijit was later requested to divert the vessel finder to undertake sonar scan in a new area.