Searching For Lost Comrades

An IDC Report 

(with acknowledgement to rediff media)


New Delhi, 13 August 2003

The professionalism of the IAF even 35 years ago when navigational aids were not so advanced came to the fore recently. The IAF carries out flying in support of the Army in the terrible weather conditions that prevail in the Himalayan region. The IAF is the lifeline of the Army and we salute it and hope that the people who take decisions for induction of IAF equipment realise that they bear an equal responsibility as those who stake their lives in the air.

The media is doing the rounds of an IAF AN-12 aircraft that crashed on February 7, 1968 in the cold Himalayan reaches and speculate that it may have got shot down or crashed in Pakistan. ‘Utter roobish’ –– as Geoff Boycott might say! The transport aircraft got caught in bad weather and crashed near Rohtang Pass. The aircraft, with 90 army soldiers and 10 IAF crew, was on its way to Leh. Recently after 35 years, a search has begun as a sequel to a team from the Himalayan Mountaineering and Allied Sports Institute recovering the remains of a Sepoy, Beli Ram, in the South Dakka glacier last month.

Teams from the Air Force and Army are moving towards a glacier near Lahaul Valley in Himachal Pradesh to search for the remains of 100 military personnel who died in an air crash 35 years ago. The air force team, led by Wing Commander Amit Chaudhary, is hoping to establish helipads for making landings with personnel and equipment to begin the search. An IAF spokesperson told that the team had established its first camps at 13,000 ft, about 3,500 ft below the crash site. An army team, comprising two officers, two junior commissioned officers and 25 others from the Dogra Scouts, is acclimatising at the base camp. Helicopters from the Sarsawa air base are expected to join the search operations, while the army has already airlifted snow-clearing equipment from Kanpur.

Flt Lt H K Singh was the pilot of the ill-fated AN-12 while Flt Lt M S Bains was the navigator. Most of those killed were young. In fact, Flt Lt Bains was married for just 14 months and his son was only three months old when the plane went down into the snows and a Wing Cdr Malhotra may have been on board.

We quote below personal reflections of Anant Bewoor (son of Gen. Bewoor), who was in the IAF, as told to the IAF History Group, which is doing pioneering work in recreating history and pride of the past.


“I recollect this accident very well. I was then in Sarsawa with ARC, and flying to Leh at least 5 days a week. I do recollect that our sortie to Leh was cancelled because of bad weather and later we learnt about HKs accident.

On that fateful day when HK took off with PN Malhotra as co pilot, late Sadhu Singh Gill had also got airborne from Chandigarh for Leh. He was behind HK. Sadhu abandoned the trip and returned, HK did the same a little later. The winds that day were supposed to be very strong as can be expected during an active Western Disturbance (WD) in all its fury and glory. We could not launch search missions for nearly two days. I have entries in my logbook, which show that we were on Search missions for this aeroplane. By the time
the search was launched the skies had cleared and those of us who are familiar with that area can recall how cloudless the sky can be after a WD has finally gone away to the East. I recall very vividly that we flew rather low in the area of Kanzam La, Baralacha La, and then Eastwards towards Shipki La. We also went further northeastwards to the area of Darbuk, Pangong Tso and so on till the Indo–Tibetan Border. The IAF also flew many missions to locate HK and his AN-12, but to no avail.

The reason why the missions, at least ours from ARC were launched Eastwards was because it was felt that the aircraft may have drifted Eastwards in the Westerlies that must have been flowing with the WD. It was also argued that due to the navigation radar (RBP 3) malfunctioning, as it did at the most inopportune times, the Navigator may have given himself a wrong position and descended too early or descended way to the East of Chandigarh in unfamiliar territory and so the crash. It now looks as if they were on track, and coming home nicely at 8.5 kms as they should have been. Did they descend early? Or was it icing? Or was it engine problem? Radio problems?

On many an occasion later when I served in 44 and 25 Squadrons in the 70s, I would imagine that suddenly I might see the fin of an AN-12 near Rohtang while descending, and I would look hard at those jagged slopes full of ice that was possibly 50 years old and remember HK in the squadron and the mess. These thoughts would race through my mind specially while returning by the Escape route which involved flying below the crest levels, and turning through the valleys at a height that permitted close view of the mountain sides. Wishful thinking by me! I recall that Chandigarh was shattered with this accident. The last time an aircraft was lost was when a local training sortie went down due to two engines on one side being shut down. That was soon after the squadron had been formed, possibly 1962, now 6 years had elapsed.

I hope the two Defence HQs spare no efforts to now find out more of this accident. Today we have the technology to locate the aircraft and bodies and find out what happened. Some efforts must go in before the snows come in Nov, but the areas can be well marked for further efforts come April 2004. We have many mountaineers and organisations that can find the answers we are looking for. Now is the time for the IAF Adventure people to step in. If anyone can, they can do it. There are so many amateur mountaineers who will gladly help the IAF and the Army in this task. The Inspector General’s Branch (of IAF) can take this on with full steam. HK, the crew and those passengers deserve it.

It will be wrong to place any credibility to the business of the aircraft straying into Pak. HK and his Nav may have made a gross error in positioning themselves on the way back, or outbound too, but they would not have flown Westwards and given POWs to Pak. The media is to blame for this nonsense. I think all of us knew that the ac was very much in India or East of track, not West.

I hope we find all that is possible. I do hope Mama Sahni knows about this, he is HKs elder brother. Where is he? Chandi, Delhi?”


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