Helicopter Pilot Wing Commander Deepika Misra rescued 47 people in an operation that lasted 8 days in flood-ravaged Madhya Pradesh.
The monsoon has unleashed its fury once again, submerging villages, turning highways into rivers and killing nearly 70 in north India. Wing Commander Deepika Misra had found herself in the middle of a similar situation two years ago.
On August 2, 2021, the helicopter pilot in the Indian Air Force was given an order to execute a rescue mission in Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh. Heavy rains had caused the Chambal, Sindh and other rivers in the area to cross the danger mark, flooding villages, leaving hundred stranded and cutting off the district.
Wing Commander Deepika, commander of the aircraft, was accompanied by co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Alok Shekhar Tiwari and Sergeant Anoop in the rescue mission.
As the three-member crew took off, they saw dams had been breached, roads had been washed away and houses destroyed.
Wing Commander Deepika negotiated the aircraft through the challenging conditions. She and her team were the first and only respondents to reach the affected area that day.
“There was no prepared landing ground so we landed on a road and were able to rescue some villagers. The weather was rough and winds were strong,” says Wing Commander Misra, who is also the first woman pilot to be a member of Sarang, the IAF’s helicopter aerobatics display team. Entry into the Sarang is after a very stringent selection process.
As the captain and crew flew over affected areas on the first day (August 2), they took notes and coordinates and shared the information with other IAF aircraft conducting rescue operations and with civil agencies. This proved crucial to planning the entire rescue operation.
“We formulated a plan of action based on the recce and continued our rescue operations for 8 days. Since there was no prepared landing area, except some roads or farms, we winched up stranded people from roof tops,” says the officer, the daughter of an engineer who retired as a senior manager in a cement factory in Morak, Rajasthan.
Winching is the process when a cable is attached to the helicopter by a winch which is operated by a flight gunner who is the third member of the crew. He gets people onboard by attaching them to the winch when the helicopter does not have a landing ground.
Wing Commander Misra and team rescued around 47 people over eight days.
At one place, they rescued 5 people who had been stranded for 3 days on the second floor of a half-submerged building. It was the most challenging op of those eight days.
“I had to execute a low hover. The downwash of the rotors was resulting in a lot of water spray around me and I did not have any visual cues available to maintain a steady hover,” says the officer, who is a Qualified Flying Instructor and an Instrument Rated Instructor and Examiner.
On each of those eight days, Wing Commander Misra, Flight Lieutenant Tiwari and Sergeant Anoop flew 3-4 missions.
They battled heavy rain, low clouds, minimal visibility and operated without the aid of air traffic control.
“We had to stay in contact with other aircraft operating in the vicinity to maintain the horizontal and vertical separation. That coordination was very important and my co-pilot and gunner played a very important part. They were constantly guiding me and coordinating with agencies. It was a total team effort,” she remembers.
For her bravery in conducting such a difficult operation during a natural calamity and saving 47 lives, Wing Commander Misra became the first woman to be conferred a Vayu Sena Medal for gallantry in IAF history.
Her co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Tiwari was awarded a commendation from the Air Officer Commanding in Chief for the mission.
“As helicopter pilots, we keep doing such rescue ops. I have done flood relief work in the past in South India for which I was commended by the chief of air staff, but this was the first time I was leading as captain of this particular mission,” says the officer who was commissioned in the IAF in 2006.
The news that she was to get the gallantry medal took her by surprise.
“I did not expect it. It was very encouraging,” says the officer who recently completed the prestigious Air Staff Course at the Malaysian Armed Forces Staff College, Putrajaya, Malaysia in 2022.
A mother of a daughter and son, her husband also serves in the IAF as an engineering officer.
Wing Commander Misra grew up in Kota, Rajasthan, and was encouraged to join the National Cadet Corps by her uncle, a retired colonel. She went on to join the NCC’s Microlight flying team. “Those were my baby steps into the IAF,” she says.
“My commanding officer in the NCC was also a defining factor, he asked me to join helicopters. Compared to fixed wing aircraft, I feel there are greater merits to helicopter flying.”
Wing Commander Misra has proved her flying mettle as an ace helicopter pilot and created history when she walked up to receive her gallantry medal from the Chief of Air Staff at the defence investiture ceremony last year.
Looking back, she says, the sense of relief and gratitude that she saw on the faces of those she had rescued will be a memory to cherish forever.
SEE: Wing Commander Deepika Misra and her team carry out the rescue missions.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com
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