Minutes after the Indian Air Force (IAF) announced that none of the 13 on board its AN-32 aircraft had survived the crash, Ram Santosh, who runs a tea stall in Delhi, said he received a call from the pilot’s father-in-law.
“He told me that all 13 people were dead, including my brother Rajesh (Kumar), a cook with the IAF,” said Santosh (37).
Kumar (23) had joined the IAF four years ago.
His family claimed that in the last 11 days, not a single IAF official met the family.
“I run a tea shop near Hotel Ashok. A day after the plane went missing, someone gave me Solanki saab’s (Raj Kumar Solanki, the pilot’s father-in-law) number… he works nearby. Since then, he has been keeping us updated,” said Santosh.
More than three hours after the IAF announced that there were no survivors, Santosh’s parents, four siblings and residents of the slum in Race Course Club area had no idea where the body was, or if their presence was required at an airport.
“Since the plane went missing, not one IAF official met us, no one cares about our parents. We are surrounded by IAF buildings and the PM’s residence is right here, but no one has come home. My father was in the IAF too, do we deserve this treatment?” asked Santosh.
He said that Kumar had wanted to join the IAF as he was fascinated by his father’s work. Kumar, who got married in November, was posted in Assam’s Jorhat a year ago. Minutes before he boarded the ill-fated aircraft on June 3, he spoke to his father — who has retired from the IAF — and promised to call him back when he landed.
Santosh recalled the last time he met Kumar less than two months ago.
“He was in Delhi for a holiday, and I went to drop him to the railway station. I told him to take care of himself, do his duty… who knew that would be the last time?”
Saroj Rani, meanwhile, had been holding on to hope for her son, Flight Lieutenant Ashish Tanwar, who was on the An-32 aircraft.
Her hopes were dashed by a phone call from her daughter-in-law on Thursday morning.
Tanwar’s wife Sandhya was on duty at the Air Traffic Control centre when the An-32 lost contact at around 1 pm on June 3. “We were almost resigned to the fact that he would not return. But we were still holding on to hope,” said Tanwar’s uncle Udaivir Singh.
While his family resides in Palwal now, Tanwar grew up in various parts of the country because his father, Radhelal, was in the Army. He retired as Subedar. Tanwar’s elder sister is a Squadron Leader in the IAF.
Shiv Narain, another uncle of Tanwar, said, “He was a very social, happy person. His only aim in life, however, was to serve in defence. Serving the country was his only goal.”