Helicopters have not stopped hovering over the Valley for the past five days. Operating from a lawn converted into a temporary helipad in Badami Bagh cantonment, the choppers relentlessly engage in airlifting stranded civilians, dropping relief material and ensuring evacuation from inaccessible points.
We board one of these rescue helicopters to figure out what it takes to reach those in need.
Two advanced light helicopters (ALHs) land at the Alpha Mess helipad with ready-to-eat meals, water cans, medicines and emergency ration. They don’t stop the engine because there is not much time to halt. Two Cheetah helicopters hover above, waiting for the ALHs to take off. It is about noon and the ALH has already operated for three hours. It’s now time to leave for Manasbari to refuel.
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Inside the chopper, it smells like a general store — it has been carrying kerosene, sunflower oil, food, water and other ration. A winch is attached beneath to lift stranded people or lower heavy supplies.
At Manasbari, the crew fill the helicopter with aviation turbine fuel. An Army personnel says, “We fill about 800 kg of ATF, which lasts about three hours. Each of these choppers has been doing almost 50 sorties per day, dropping about 15,000 kg of ration.”
The ALHs are operated by two pilots and seven crew members. In the Valley, each of these helicopters — 15 Mi-17s, four ALHs and 11 Cheetahs — have been flying for 14-15 hours a day.
The next stop is J&K light infantry centre, the heart of the supply operation. As soon as the helicopter lands, doors open and five men load the cabin with a water pump, three hose pipes, hundreds of IRCTC water bottles and a few jute bags. The chopper is now cramped. There are three crew members but no seats.
Once again, the chopper takes off. Over the city, people wave flags and shout to grab attention. “Patient here, need help,” reads one sign. They latch on to anything the choppers drop, holding on to the rooftops with the other hand.
The helicopters get as low as possible to drop bread, ration and items. After distributing the ration, the ALH returns to the Alpha Mess lawn.
Its day is not over yet. The ALH soon takes to skies once again — this time loaded with people to drop elsewhere.
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