Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian Air Force pilot captured briefly by Pakistan during tensions between the two countries in February, flew a sortie with Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa in a MiG-21 jet on Monday.
The 30-minute sortie came nearly six months after Abhinandan sustained injuries while ejecting from a MiG-21 Bison during an aerial combat between India and Pakistan on 27 February, a PTI report said. Abhinandan was deemed fit to fly two weeks ago following a thorough medical evaluation.
"It was an honour for me to fly with him," Dhanoa, who is set to retire on 30 September, was quoted as saying after the sortie on the MiG-21 trainer aircraft.
Thirty six-year-old Abhinandan was captured by the Pakistani Army on 27 February after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in a dogfight with Pakistani jets during an aerial combat. Just before his jet was hit, he brought down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet. Pakistan released Abhinandan on 1 March. The Pakistani raid was in retaliation to India bombing Balakot in Pakistan in a pre-emptive strike after the 14 February terrorist attack in Pulwama in which 40 Indian paramilitary personnel were killed.
"He (Abhinandan) has got back his flying category in less than six months which is good," said Dhanoa, adding it was perhaps his last sortie on a fighter jet before retirement. As a young pilot, the Air Force chief flew the MiG-21 jet with Abhinandan’s father, Simhakutty Varthaman, who retired as air marshal.
Abhinandan was conferred Vir Chakra, the coveted wartime gallantry medal, on the eve of India’s Independence Day on 14 August for downing the F-16 jet of Pakistan. The Vir Chakra is the third highest gallantry award after the Paramvir Chakra and the Mahavir Chakra.