A helicopter of the Indian Armed Forces strayed into Pak-occupied Kashmir on Sunday due to bad weather. This Cheetah helicopter of the Indian Air Force lost its way and strayed into the Pakistani territory crossing the Line of Control around one in the afternoon. Pak Army sent two of its fighter planes and the helicopter was made to land in the Skardu area. All the four Indians aboard the helicopter were detained and after interrogation for about four hours they were released. In the evening at about 6.00 pm these four persons including two Majors (pilot and co-pilot), one Lt Col and one JCO returned to Kargil along with their helicopter. As soon as the news of this helicopter wandering into Pak territory reached the Army Headquarters, the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) immediately became active and he contacted his counterpart in Pakistan on hot line. By returning Cheetah helicopter, Pakistan tried to put across a message to the world about its magnanimity. It tried to show that in spite of such tensions between the two countries, it has not forgot the concern for humanity and India must appreciate its gesture. We want to express our gratitude to Pakistan for its understanding our mistake and releasing our soldiers and the helicopter unharmed, but the real story is somewhat different. According to Army sources, Pakistan returned our helicopter, basically for two reasons. First, there were only four passengers in the chopper and there was no possibility that there was a fifth passenger also, who had been dropped somewhere for spying, and secondly, the Cheetah helicopter was not equipped with spying devices. It was not on any spying mission. In fact, the helicopter was on a maintenance mission in Bimbat (Dras sector) and it strayed into Pak territory due to bad weather. It is being said that this helicopter was released by Pakistan as a token of good gesture, but it was the US intervention which forced Pakistan to release it. Quoting sources, a news channel has claimed that senior officers of the Indian Army had requested US to intervene in the matter. And, US pressurize Pakistan. Later senior military officers of India and Pakistan talked and the crisis was resolved and the Cheetah was returned to India. It is quite interesting and startling too that the Pakistan Artillery Helipad (No 90), where the Cheetah helicopter landed, had been built very close to the LoC, but we don't know when this helipad was constructed. We were unaware about when Pakistan had constructed this helipad near to the LoC. In fact, it has been reported that Pakistan had stolen the GPS data of the Cheetah helicopter. It is being said that the data contained vital information, which were quite important from Indian security point of view. It contained the details about helicopter's contacts with various helipads. The data had recorded information about code names and codes of all the helipads under 14 Corps. Senior Officers of the Indian Army are debriefing the crew of the Cheetah helicopter. The point is that how the chopper strayed into Pak territory, when it was equipped with the GPS? It is quite embarrassing that the helipad in Marole sector (Pak artillery No 90), where the Cheetah helicopter landed, is adjacent to the Kargil sector. Yet, the Intelligence had no information about that helipad. Initial investigation reveals that Pakistan's claim of forcing the helicopter to land, is also wrong. Neither the Indian crew knew where they had landed the craft, nor Pakistan had any inclination regarding this. According to sources, the 14 Corps Commander, Lt Gen Ravi Dastane had set out for a visit to an area near Kargil on Sunday morning. His Advanced Light Helicopter (AHL) developed some technical snag and it was force-landed. Gen Dastane was taken to Srinagar in another helicopter. The Cheetah helicopter had taken off with a Maintenance Engineer for repairs to the ALH. You may not know the rest of the story. It may never come to light, what had really happened?
- Anil Narendra