Brief life Sketch up to Commission
(As Communicated by BikramDev )
I was born on 14 October 1953 at Patiala in a middle class family. My father S. Jagir Singh and mother Jaswant Kaur were delighted as I was their first child. Father had served as a Havaldar with an Engineer Regiment during Second World War in Burma and later joined Pepsu secretariat. In 1956 the family moved to Chandigarh, which was coming up as the Capital of Punjab.
It was in Chandigarh that I started going to Dev Samaj School, which was in sector 18-C, one solitary house. On completion of primary education I won a PWSR scholarship to join Punjab Public School, Nabha in class five. On 16 January 1963, my father took me to Nabha and admitted me in the boarding school which shaped this shy little boy into a well rounded confident student who started coming in the top three positions in his class. The school had a very dedicated staff, that cared and taught us better than their own children. I had love for Mathematics and Science subjects, which made me study PCM and Biology. Those days, the National Defence Academy required boys to be tenth pass for joining them. I along with few of my classmates appeared for NDA entrance exam and cleared the same.
In July 1969, I joined the NDA with 42nd course. This was the great institution that made us into strong leaders who would go on to lead men under their command, into battle, be it on ground, sea or air. In the first week of June 1972, we passed out of NDA and went on to EFS Bidar for basic flying training on HT-2 piston engine tail wheel aircraft.
There were fifty of us who got commissioned as Pilot Officers into the fighter stream of the Indian Air Force on 09 February 1974. Then followed over years, a string of postings at different Air Force airports and experience in flying different aircrafts and helicopters.
Bikram Dev as school boy standing on right of the aisle ,second row (mark). S.Ujjal Singh former Lok Sabha Speaker and Punjab Governor is the chief guest escorted by Mr JK Kate (1960s).
On 24 Jun 1982 at around 3 pm information was received that an adventure patrol consisting of about 20 army personnel was lost north of Dharamshala. CO and me picked up a co pilot each and took off from Jammu in two Chetaks and landed at YOL camp, which is just below Dharamshala. Picked up some warm clothing in gunny bags and one army officer with wireless set compatible with one carried by the lost patrol. Both the Chetaks carried out a search for about an hour but no trace of army personnel. We landed back at YOL and sent back one Chetak. King Kahlon and self took off again around 6:30pm and spotted the army jawans at 14500 ft amsl. We dropped the three gunny bags full of winter clothing and some medicines as there was no place to land. We maintained 15000ft height and headed straight for Pathankot as the sun had already set. Our fuel was very critical and there were chances of flameout en-route, so we held on to our height, so that we can glide to the airfield in case we run out of fuel. We landed on the runway refueled 575ltrs, i.e. the total tank capacity. It means our fuel tank was empty and we made to the airfield by the skin of our teeth. We landed back at Jammu at night 8 pm. We started planning for the rescue next day and came to a conclusion that we needed a Cheetah with winch to pullout the stranded men one by one as there was no landing place in the vicinity. The Cheetah with winch was at Srinagar, so we sent a message to Sqn Ldr GS Bajwa the detachment commander to take off from Srinagar with full fuel early morning for Jammu.
Next day, 25 Jun 1982, as we finished our morning Met briefing and were coming to our Unit area we heard the Cheetah coming from Srinagar. I was tasked by CO to go and do the rescue of stranded men. I called Sgt B Singh who was to accompany us as he will be lowered first to brief the stranded men as to how to put on the brassier belt and be winched up safely.
The Cheetah landed and I got into the captains seat asking Sqn Ldr Bajwa to get into the winch operators seat, which is actually the copilot’s seat turned around so that his back is towards the front and he looks at the tail of the helicopter and can look down at where the winch cable is being lowered for rescue. Sgt B Singh jumped into the passenger seat with his winter clothing. All this happened with rotors running and within no time we were airborne at 0740hrs for Dharamshala. It was a very pleasant morning with blue sky, good visibility and we were cruising at 9000ft amsl for our destination. On the way I briefed Bajwa about the rescue mission as he needed to be told what we are going to do and where. We were at the location Inderjot pass north of Dharamshala at 0900 hrs. Light westerly winds at 15000’ amsl and clear blue sky with very good visibility.
I did a recce of the area where the army men were stranded. They were sitting under the shadow of a huge bolder. The slope was very steep and I brought the helicopter to a hover facing the rock 100’ above the stranded men. The operator asked me to move forward so that the winch cable would go down over them. Moving forward and lowering the cable I was very close to the rock face in front, the rotors were barely 5-10 mtrs from the rock face. Sgt B Singh was sent down on the winch cable to brief the stranded army men so that they can be winched up one by one. They also had to be given assurance that come what may everyone will be lifted to safety and the last will be Sgt B Singh. We moved away so that the helicopter noise does not disturb them. After five minutes or so we returned to the site and the winch cable was lowered, the first person put on the brassiere belt and Bajwa the winch operator called out “Steady hover cable being reeled in, cable taught casualty leaving the ground, steady, halfway and fully reeled in Casuality inside the helicopter”.
What a relief I got as hovering steady for five minutes plus had caused fatigue. Relaxing for two three minutes and we were ready for the next person to be winched up. The second man inside the helicopter and the winch cable lowered to pick up the third. By now I was tired and sweating inspite of minus temperature. Once the third person came on board I moved the helicopter sideways from the rock and dipping the nose built up forward speed and heaved a sigh of relief.
The time was 1010hrs we headed for YOL camp helipad which was 15 mins flight time away. On landing these men thanked us profusely. We had a warm cup of tea, refueled the machine and were ready for the next mission. It was Sqn Ldr Bajwa’s turn to fly and I sat in the winch operator’s seat. We took off and reached the rescue spot where the helicopter was brought to a hover and I was guiding Bajwa to move forward so as to be over the stranded people. He was very slow and hesitant to move forward. On being asked why so, he said the rotors are too close to the rock face in front. I assured him that we won’t hit the rock as we had just hovered close and rescued three persons. He did move and as the winch came over the stranded people I lowered the cable and rescued one person. Now Bajwa was sweating with tension so I asked him to fly away and relax for some time and then come back to establish a hover for rescue. This way we rescued one more and now Bajwa was too tired, so we flew back to YOL camp to off load the two.
We had to make at least five more trips to get everyone out. I realised all the trips will have to be flown by me as Bajwa wanted to operate the winch and was scared to hover looking at the rock so close. We changed seats and got back to the spot and restarted the rescue operation. The wind speed had picked up and small clouds had started drifting in. We managed to rescue three more and got back to YOL. Now the helicopter needed fuel and so did we require a bite. After rest and refueling we started again and found the wind speeds were in the order of 40-45kts which caused turbulence and made hovering more difficult. Nevertheless, against all odds we pulled out six more in two trips but had to suspend the operation due clouds formation and visibility reducing to near zero.
We had our lunch and relaxed while waiting for the weather to improve. It was around 4pm that things looked better and we took off. It was a crawl uphill as the visibility near the spot was low due a cloud sitting there. The winds had slowed down a bit. One more trip and we saw that Sgt B Singh came up and one army person was still left. This was against my briefing as our Sgt was to be picked up last. Now in order to save time I decided to offload the Sgt on a flattish big bolder at a lower height so that we could pull out the last man before rescue spot gets covered with drifting clouds. As I put my one skid on the boulder and Sgt B Singh jumped out, his foot slipped over the moss covering the boulder and I heard Bajwa shouting “Oh shit he’s gone…thank god he has caught hold of the skid.” I asked Bajwa to lower the winch cable which he could hold and was pulled into the helicopter. We flew to YOL and switched off as clouds had drifted over the spot.
The Sgt told me that Subedar Major forced him to go so that he being senior most will come last. We had a cup of tea and waited for the clouds to move away. At 5:30pm we restarted and went up and pulled out the last man with great difficulty. It was just before sunset that we completed the rescue of all 19 army men and heaved a sigh of relief. We had a well earned cup of tea, refueled our Cheetah and took off with our Sgt B Singh on board for Jammu. The sun had set and we were now doing night flying back to our base. We landed at 8pm to be received by our CO who was told that all rescued. He patted be on the back and asked us to do two hours of night flying as the whole unit was flying. We refueled and flew two hours more before calling it a day.
Soon I was posted out to NDA as an instructor where I got married in Nov 1982. On 25 Jan 83 I got a pleasant surprise that I have been awarded a Shaurya Chakra by the President of India for that daring rescue work done last June. I was flooded with congratulatory telegrams from Defence Minister, Chief of Air Staff and all. We celebrated by going for a movie and then having a party with friends. It was in April 83 that we were invited to Rashtrapati Bhawan where the President Giani Zail Singh actually pinned the Shaurya Chakra medal on my chest. That indeed was a great moment in my life.