Copter pilot gets Shaurya Chakra

Copter pilot gets Shaurya Chakra

Copter pilot gets Shaurya Chakra, A brief window of clear skies after a week of \'icy soup\'. Exposure to Pakistani fire. Add a double serving of indomitable courage to this and you\'ll have the recipe for a Shaurya Chakra, the peace-time equivalent of the Vir Chakra and third in the order of precedence of gallantry awards.

An untested snowfield at 18,000 feet in the Siachen region. A missing Army helicopter, status of its two pilots unknown. Sudden death-dealing gusts, sub-zero temperatures, machinery taken to every limit possible. And beyond.

A brief window of clear skies after a week of 'icy soup'. Exposure to Pakistani fire. Add a double serving of indomitable courage to this and you'll have the recipe for a Shaurya Chakra, the peace-time equivalent of the Vir Chakra and third in the order of precedence of gallantry awards.

For Wing Commander Huvey Upadhyaya, it's par for course in the treacherous skies above world's highest battlefield. Upadhyaya's unit is based at Leh, and flies Cheetals, a re-avatared version of the French Aerospatiale Lama.

This is the story of a lad from Amritsar, and the miracle he worked in impossible conditions. It was on March 1 this year that Uppi, as the 37-year-old Upadhyaya is called by his colleagues, was on an air maintenance sortie in the central section of the glacier when he received a message about an Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) of the Army losing radio contact over the northern section.

The weather in the region had been bad for a week and a brief window had opened only on that day. Upadhyaya was directed to locate the helicopter.

Recalling the events of that morning, Upadhyaya told Mail Today from Leh that the weather was "marginal" and locating the helicopter was extremely difficult. Contact was established with several Army posts to get clues about its possible location.

The wreckage of the crashed ALH was finally found between two forward posts located at around 18,000 feet above sea level.


The wreckage of the copter and its two injured pilots were lying between crevasses and soft snow. Cheetals fly in pairs over the Siachen Glacier.

Upadhyaya asked the second helicopter to stand by. After a quick assessment of the conditions and the prevailing weather, it was decided not to lose time in pulling out the injured pilots. Both IAF helicopters were exposed to possible Pakistani fire. Quick power calculations were made and an uneven landing on ski pads was carried out, said Upadhyaya.

"It was like hanging with one ski in the air," he said. The soft snow rose like a storm due to the down wash of the rotors. "Holding on to power was the key," he added.


The official citation says: "The terrain of the crash site was undulating, mired by deep crevasses covered with soft snow and had a high slope gradient. The strong winds prevalent at that time made landing the helicopter in the area an extremely difficult task.

"Even a delay of five minutes would have led to closure of the weather window and the rescue opportunity would have been lost... "Exhibiting utmost courage and exceptional flying skills, Wg Cdr Huvey Upadhyaya landed his helicopter in between the crevasses near the crash site.

"While on partial power, he hovered his helicopter ensuring that edge of the helicopter ski was in light contact with the soft snow and rescued the injured pilots... Even a slight mishandling of helicopter controls during the operation would have led to a catastrophic accident."


The Army pilots were moved into the helicopter and brought down to safety. "Our unit has undoubtedly the best helicopter pilots," Upadhyaya said with pride about the achievements of his unit which turned 50 on April 1.

Flying above harsh terrain at altitudes ranging from 15,000 to 19,000 feet and a "density altitude" of up to 22,000 feet makes helicopter operations a "fulfilling experience", according to Upadhyaya, who is a married man. For troops on the ground, air maintenance sorties are a lifeline.

As a senior pilot, Upadhyaya has an extremely busy schedule. The son of a retired bank employee, Upadhyaya says joining the IAF was his first choice when he graduated from Amritsar's Khalsa College.

He has mostly flown light helicopters and had rescued an Italian national from Nanda Devi some years ago. He was also involved in flood relief operations in Jamnagar and several casualty evacuation missions in the north-east.

Ashok Chakra for late Major Varadarajan

Major Mukund Varadarajan, who died fighting terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir earlier this year, has been awarded the Ashok Chakra, the highest peace time gallantry award. Two naval officers who died while saving sailors from a fire aboard the submarine INS Sinduratna have been awarded Shaurya Chakras.

Varadarajan, 31, was leading troops who surrounded three terrorists hiding in an outhouse in Qazipathri village of Shopian on April 25. The terrorists had attacked poll officials. He had killed two terrorists before he died. "Maj Mukund of 44 Rashtriya Rifles along with his buddy Sepoy Vikram, displaying raw courage, crawled in proximity to the outhouse. The officer lobbed a grenade inside the cement outhouse, killing one terrorist instantaneously," says his citation.

"The elimination of the terrorist avenged the killing of the election officials within 24 hours and restored faith of the public in democracy and the Army. Maj Mukund was evacuated but succumbed to his injuries," it said. Vikram, who also died in the action, was posthumously awarded the Shaurya Chakra for killing from close quarters the third terrorist.

The Lieutenant Commanders Manoranjan Kumar and Kapish Singh Muwal were awarded Shaurya Chakras for saving several sailors from a fire on the INS Sinduratna without caring for their safety. The two officers died when they were trapped in a sailor's chamber that caught fire.

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