(This was originally posted in The Print by Snehesh Alex Philip)
An emergency landing of a Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter with two three-star officers on board, in Gujarat’s Kheda district Saturday, has brought back memories of a tragic 1963 crash that claimed the lives of five top Indian military commanders.
The Dhruv helicopter that made an emergency landing had on board Army Training Command head Lt Gen. Raj Shukla and Indian Air Force South Western Air Command Chief Air Marshal S.K. Ghotia, who were on their back from a Combined Commanders Conference in Kevadia, Gujarat. There were four other officers in the helicopter too.
The aircraft had to make a precautionary landing 30 km short of Ahmedabad. Local police subsequently helped the six officers reach a circuit house in Nadiad, from where they traveled by road to Ahmedabad Saturday evening.
As the incident came to light, many on social media questioned why two top officers were in the same chopper.
Following the 1963 crash, new protocols were set regarding top officers flying in the same chopper. However, official sources in the Army said Saturday’s incident involved no protocol violation since the helicopter in question is a twin-engine aircraft. “The protocol (barring more than one top officer in a chopper at a time) is with regard to flying single-engine helicopters,” a source said.
Asked about the emergency landing, sources in the Army said it was a precautionary landing as the nearest helipad was 15 minutes away. “The pilot noticed some warning switches on and thought best to carry out a precautionary landing,” a source added.
Sources in the Army said “maximum number of choppers were deployed” because of the Combined Commanders Conference.
“There were about 24 top officers at the conference besides other dignitaries. The choppers also cannot fly after sunset as per the protocol. Hence, some officers flew together to Ahmedabad,” a second source said.
The 1963 crash
The 1963 crash happened on 22 November — the same day US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Texas. The ill-fated helicopter, Alouette, called HAL Chetak, crashed in Poonch while on a reconnaissance mission.
The officers on board the aircraft were Lieutenant General Daulat Singh, the general officer commanding-in-chief, western command, Air Vice-Marshal E.W. Pinto, air officer commanding, western command, Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, general officer commanding, 15 Corps, Major General K.N.D. Nanavati, Military Cross, general officer commanding, 25 Infantry Division, Brigadier S.R. Oberoi, Military Cross, Commander, 93 Infantry Brigade, and Flight Lieutenant S.S. Sodhi.
A monument has been built at the site of the air crash.