In his previous stint as Deputy Commandant of the Indian Coast Guard, Anshul Sheoran, a native of Rohtak in Haryana, has flown several search and rescue missions, medical evacuations and surveillance programmes onboard the Dornier aircraft. In many ways, he said, such missions gave him the exposure and confidence early on in his career as an aviator to face challenging circumstances.
One of such circumstances came Thursday when 31-year-old Sheoran successfully steered the Air India Express (AIE) flight from Abu Dhabi to Kochi, the first of many repatriation flights India is undertaking to bring home stranded Indians as part of the Vande Bharat mission. The IX 452 flight, carrying 181 passengers including 45 pregnant women and four children, took off from the Abu Dhabi airport, landing safely at the Kochi airport in Nedumbassery at 10:17 pm local time, ahead of schedule.
“It was a very proud moment to bring our people back home. Any mission or task that comes our way, we must be ready to undertake it. The general tempo and morale of every individual involved in the mission was very high. It’s a proud feeling to be associated with such a big mission,” Sheoran, who joined Air India Express in 2017, said.
In his 14-year-long aviator career, it was also the first time that his parents, based in Vishakhapatnam, saw him maneuvring an aircraft during takeoff and landing.
“They were very happy to see me on TV,” he added.
It was on the evening of May 5 that Sheoran, his co-pilot Rizvin Nasser and four cabin crew members got a call from the AIE management, informing them about the Abu Dhabi-Kochi flight. In the last couple of weeks, the airline had been making painstaking efforts in coordinating its personnel and laying down a stringent SOP for the pilots and cabin-crew to stick to ever since the Centre signalled its intentions to bring back stranded Indians. With the possibility of infection among passengers not entirely ruled out, tight safety protocols had to be adhered to especially among the airline staff.
To get acquainted with the right infection control practices, Sheoran and his team were given training sessions by a team of doctors at the Ernakulam Medical College.
“They taught us about the correct ways of donning and doffing the PPE suits. We were told about the loopholes and the wrong practices so that we don’t make the same mistakes,” he said. Wearing the suits during the flight meant the crew could not use the lavatory or eat food in that duration.
“It was not comfortable. That challenge was there. But our airline has well-planned SOP and flight operation bulletins. It’s user-friendly and safe.”
At the Medical College, the airline crew were also subjected to RT-PCR tests for Covid, following clearance of which they were deputed to the flight.
Since the flight had a large number of pregnant women and people with medical ailments as compared to regular flights, the staff on board had to be accurate and precise with their decision-making with respect to any health emergencies that may prop up. But thankfully there were none.
Deepak Menon, cabin crew-in-charge of the flight said, “All the passengers were very cooperative and followed all safety guidelines. We made repeated announcements that there has to be limited movement within the aircraft. At the time of boarding, there were not a lot of happy faces. I think they were tensed. But after we landed, seeing the smiles on their faces, we were satisfied. It’s a very proud moment for us to participate in a mission like this.”
One of the things that the passengers would remember about the IX 452 flight on Thursday for years to come would be Capt Sheoran’s sanguine audio message from the flight deck before the trip commenced. The ‘we are going home’ message telling passengers that India awaits their return eagerly is rightly going viral.
“It’s a big day for everyone, especially for those who are coming back. Their families have been worried during the lockdown. I felt i should interact with them. The entire aircraft should be high on morale,” he said.
Incidentally, it’s the second time Capt Sheoran has heard his own voice. “Before this, I had heard my voice when I became Captain. I had asked my colleague to record it then. It’s good to hear my own voice.”