When the Indian Air Force AN-32 aircraft went missing Monday afternoon, the wife of pilot Ashish Tanwar (29) saw things unfold closer than anyone else. Posted at the IAF Air Traffic Control in Jorhat in Assam, Sandhya was on duty when the flight took off from the base at 12.25 pm for the advanced landing ground at Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh.
“They lost contact with the flight at 1 pm, and she called us an hour later to tell us what had happened,” Flight Lieutenant Ashish’s uncle Udaivir Singh told The Indian Express, at the family home in Palwal.
With search operations still underway, the family despairs as the hours pass. At Ashish’s home in Palwal’s HUDA Sector 2, his uncle said: “Initially we were hopeful that may be the aircraft crossed over to China and managed to make an emergency landing, but even in that case, those on board would have made some contact by now. If they have crashed in the hills…”
“His father has gone to Assam to meet the authorities and get updates quickly, but his mother is at home. She is absolutely shattered, and is barely able to speak without crying,” he said.
Singh is one of five brothers of Ashish’s father, Radhelal. Of the six siblings, five joined the Army, with three, including Radhelal, retired now. Ashish, his uncles said, was heavily influenced by this, and aspired to “serve the nation” ever since he was a young boy. His elder sister is a Squadron Leader in the IAF.
“I remember one time, when Ashish must have been barely up to my waist, I asked him what he wanted to become when he grew up. He immediately said he will be a soldier. Fauji ka beta fauji hi banta hai,” recalled Radhelal’s brother Shiv Narain, who runs a school in Palwal’s Dighot village.
Ashish did not grow up in Palwal but spent his childhood moving from one place to another because of his father’s job. It was only six years ago that his parents settled down at their current home, purchasing a plot in HUDA Sector 2 and constructing a single-storey home.
He studied in different Kendriya Vidyalayas and went on to complete B.Tech. Following this, his uncles said, he took up a job with an MNC in Gurgaon for “two or three months”, before he joined the IAF in December 2013.
“He was clear that he wanted to serve the nation, but he had completed his B.Tech and started working because that was his back-up option. Once he was accepted into the Air Force, there was no turning back,” said Narain.
In May 2015, after completing training, Ashish moved to Jorhat, where Sandhya, who hails from Mathura, joined him last year. The couple got married in February 2018, and the match was arranged by their parents, relatives said.
“They last came home on May 2 because they were on leave until May 26. They left Palwal on May 18 and flew to Bangkok for a holiday. From there, they headed directly to Assam. None of us imagined something like this would happen. Less than 20 days ago, they were both right here,” Narain said, taking a break from a steady flow of visitors at the family’s home, where dozens sat on chairs waiting for an update.