Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa and his colleagues before flying MiG-21 planes in a 'missing man' formation, an aerial salute to honour martyr Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, at Bhisiana Air Force station, in Bathinda (Photo: PTI)
Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa and his colleagues before flying MiG-21 planes in a 'missing man' formation, an aerial salute to honour martyr Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, at Bhisiana Air Force station, in Bathinda (Photo: PTI)

IAF chief pays tribute to Kargil heroes by flying 'missing man' formation

  • Birendra Singh Dhanoa led the Mig-21 flypast at the Indian Air Force station in Bhisiana
  • In the formation, three aircraft fly in a four aircraft formation with a gap in between two aircraft depicting the missing man

New Delhi: Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Birendra Singh Dhanoa, on Monday led a group of four Mig-21 aircraft that flew in a “missing man" formation as a tribute to Indian Air Force personnel killed during the 1999 Kargil conflict.

Dhanoa was accompanied by Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Air Command and Air Marshal R Nambiar – both Kargil war veterans.

Dhanoa led the Mig-21 flypast at the Indian Air Force station in Bhisiana, Bhatinda, “to honour the valour and supreme sacrifice of men killed in action during Operation ‘Safed Sagar’ at Kargil," a spokesman for the Indian Air Force said in a statement.

“The ‘Missing Man’ formation is an aerial salute accorded to honour the fallen comrades-in-arms," the spokesman said. In the formation, three aircraft fly in a four aircraft formation with a gap in between two aircraft depicting the missing man.

India detected infiltrators in Kashmir’s Kargil area in the latter half of May and sent a five-man Indian army team led by Lieutenant Saurav Kalia to investigate. The capture and deaths of the Indian army team revealed to New Delhi the extent of the infiltration and the numbers of those who had come and lodged themselves at posts inside Indian territory, which were vacated by the Indian army in winter. The Indian government on 25 May ordered air strikes to dislodge the infiltrators, believed to be Pakistani army regulars from the Northern Light Infantry.

On 27 May, 1999, the Indian Air Force lost two fighter jets while attempting to evict the infiltrators. Both aircraft were brought down by firing by the infiltrators. While Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa was taken prisoner after his Mig-27 was shot down, another pilot, Squadron Leader Ahuja, was shot dead by Pakistani soldiers after he ejected from his Mig-21 that was shot down by the infiltrators. Ahuja was posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra. Dhanoa was at that time Ahuja’s commanding officer.

It took India two months of a joint effort between the Indian army and Air Force to evict the intruders.

On Tuesday, Dhanoa is scheduled to visit Air Force Station Sarsawa and fly in a Mi-17 V5 Missing Man formation to commemorate those who lost their lives during the Kargil conflict. This is to commemorate the IAF’s loss of an Mi-17 as it targeted enemy positions in Drass sector. Four IAF personnel – Squadron Leader R Pundhir, Flight Lieutenant S Muhilan, Sergeant R K Sahu and Sergeant PVNR Prasad – were killed in the Mi-17 chopper crash.

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