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IAF helicopter crash: Lone survivor had close call last year, got Shaurya Chakra for gallantry

A year ago, he had a close call when a Light Combat Aircraft that he was flying developed system failure, resulting in total loss of control.

Group Captain Varun Singh is the lone survivor in the December 8 helicopter crash in which the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and 12 others lost their lives. (File)

Group Captain Varun Singh, the lone survivor of the helicopter crash Wednesday, is in critical condition at the Military Hospital in Wellington.

A year ago, he had a close call when a Light Combat Aircraft that he was flying developed system failure, resulting in total loss of control. Going “beyond the call of duty”, he managed to land the aircraft and for this “act of exceptional gallantry”, he was awarded the Shaurya Chakra on Independence Day this year.

In one of his Twitter posts, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said: “Praying for the speedy recovery of Gp Capt Varun Singh, who is currently under treatment at the Military Hospital, Wellington.”

The IAF officer, who is Directing Staff at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington where CDS Bipin Rawat was headed for a lecture, was based at the same Sulur air base as a Wing Commander. On October 12, 2020 “he was flying a system check sortie in LCA, away from parent base, after major rectification of Flight Control System (FCS) and pressurisation system (life support environment control system)”.

According to his Shaurya Chakra citation, the cockpit pressurisation failed at high altitude. He “correctly identified the failure and initiated a descent to lower altitude for landing”. But while descending, the Flight Control System “failed and led to total loss of control of the aircraft”.

Rescue workers at the site of the helicopter crash in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, on Wednesday. (PTI)

“This was an unprecedented catastrophic failure that had never occurred. There was a rapid loss of altitude… with the aircraft pitching up and down viciously going to the extremities of G limits,” it stated. Despite being in “extreme physical and mental stress in an extreme life-threatening situation, he maintained exemplary composure and regained control of the aircraft, thereby exhibiting exceptional flying skill”.

At about 10,000 feet, the aircraft again experienced total loss of control “with vicious manoeuvring and uncontrollable pitching” and under the scenario “the pilot was at liberty to abandon aircraft”. But Singh, “faced with a potential hazard to his own life”, tried to land the aircraft safely, displaying “extraordinary courage and skill”.

The citation said Singh “went beyond the call of duty and landed the aircraft taking calculated risks” which also allowed “an accurate analysis of the fault on the indigenously designed fighter and further institution of preventive measures against recurrence”.

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For this “high order of professionalism, composure and quick decision making, even at the peril to his life, he not only averted the loss of an LCA, but also safeguarded civilian property and population on ground,” it stated.

First published on: 09-12-2021 at 04:14 IST
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