ITANAGAR, Jul 08: Wing Commander Mandeep Singh Dhillon, who died in a helicopter crash in Arunachal Pradesh while rescuing people at landslide-hit Sagalee, was given a tearful adieu at the 115th Helicopter Unit of Indian Air Force's airbase in Tezpur, Assam on Saturday morning.
Members of Dhillon’s family and course-mates attended the solemn last rites besides IAF and Army officials.
The mortal remains of Dhillon and co-pilot Flight Lieutenant PK Singh were airlifted from the crash site on Friday. Dhillon, survived by his wife and two children, was an avid long-distance runner and was among IAF’s best helicopter pilots.
The IAF advanced light helicopter Dhruv that Dhillon and Singh piloted had Flight Engineer Sergeant Gujjar and IRBn constable Nada Ombing on board when it went missing near Sagalee in Papum Pare district on Tuesday afternoon after it took off from Pilputu helipad.
The wreckage of the chopper was later found in a deep gorge near Shopo Yuha, about 30 km from here and 4 km from Hostalam village also in Papum Pare district.
Despite bad weather, they rescued 160 people in five sorties from Sagalee to Naharlagun.
On the sixth sortie to Sagalee village, the weather worsened so much that they decided not to risk civilians' lives and did not take people on board. Within minutes after taking off from the village, the ground station lost contact with them.
The helicopter unit in Tezpur is stationed to secure the border with China in western Arunachal Pradesh, and to carry out rescue missions in rough terrain.
Dhillon had 18 years of experience and was part of many a challenging mission in diverse terrain – from icy mountains to the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh. An alumnus of the Rashtriya Indian Military College in Dehradun and the National Defence Academy, he had also worked as an instructor at NDA.
Meanwhile, the body of Gujjar was recovered at 1 PM on Saturday after a massive search, Papum Pare SP Tumme Amo informed.
The search operations were conducted by state police personnel, NDRF, IAF and villagers, an official report informed.
The mortal remains of Gujjar and P K Singh along with one injured Inspector (T) M K Tripathy was brought to Naharlagun and later the bodies of both the IAF personnel were taken to Tezpur. The body of Singh could be lifted yesterday, the report said.
Amo, who monitored and supervise the whole process, said the crash scene suggested that the ill-fated chopper had flown low and hit a tree probably due to dark fog as corroborated by two women of Hostalam village.
Amo said the body of Ombing was lying 5-6 meters below the chopper whose two doors were lying 9-10 meters on either side.
The SP said the body of Singh was partly visible while Dhillon’s was trapped inside the wreckage of the chopper.
“As the terrain was steep and tough even for a person to walk, it was decided the bodies would be airlifted. Accordingly, the site was cleared of all trees and bamboos for the copter to hover and lift the bodies,” he said.