Captain Sumita Vijayan, who was killed in the helicopter crash at Katra in Jammu on Monday, was one of the first women pilots in the Indian Air Force. A native of Attingal in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram district, 44-year-old Vijayan had retired from IAF as squadron leader in 2005 after 12 years of service.
Sources from her family said Vijayan joined Himalayan Heli Services, which operated chopper services to the Vaishno Devi temple, as chief pilot a few years ago. The pilot, who died along with five pilgrims in the helicopter crash, was unmarried and lived with her mother in Jammu.
Vijayan’s father, who died two years ago, had been a foreman in Indian Navy in Mumbai. Her elder sister Sunitha joined the Army as a captain.
Vijayan was born and brought up in Mumbai. After schooling, she moved to Thiruvananthapuram for her degree course. Becoming a pilot was her dream and her parents and sister encouraged her. She joined the IAF as a trainee pilot in Hyderabad-based Air Force Academy. Vijayan had worked at Air Force stations in Bathinda, Hyderabad and Darjeeling, family sources said.
Former IAF Captain Laju Cherian recalled her as a hard working pilot.
“Vijayan was a role model for everyone. She had proved her mettle as one of the early women pilots of the IAF,” Cherian told mediapersons.
Meanwhile, the Directororate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) Tuesday began a probe to ascertain the cause of the mishap. Sources said a six-member DGCA team arrived at Katra to start safety audit of the helicopters ferrying pilgrims between Katra and Sanji Chhat.
While one team visited the crash site and examined the wreckage of the helicopter, the second team went to the helipad and conducted a trial sortie from Katra to Sanji Chhat, sources said. Helicopter service in the area remained suspended for the second day on Tuesday. Sources said the service will be resumed only after the DGCA clears it.
WITH ENS JAMMU