‘The Government of India honoured the team of fearless Air Indians who flew to Wuhan in China to bring back 647 nationals’
Be it rescuing civilians stranded in flood-hit Jammu and Kashmir or evacuating Indians and other nationals from conflict-stricken Yemen or airlifting citizens from earthquake-ravaged Gujarat – Air India has always been standing by the nation in its hour of need. And, with its recent feat of bringing home 647 Indians along with seven Maldivians from corona virus-infected Wuhan in China, the national carrier has scripted one of the most selfless and daring rescue acts in the annals of Indian civil aviation. A total of 68 bravehearts of Air India went beyond their call of duty to fly back the stranded in two daring Boeing 747 jumbo sorties inspired by the belief: “If we don’t do it, then who will?”
The nation honoured their determination and courage at a recent ceremony where Union Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, conferred upon every member involved in the mission, letters of appreciation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We are proud of the commitment shown by the Air India team to bring home their countrymen in spite of trying conditions in the epidemic-hit Wuhan. I feel proud to confer the appreciation of our Prime Minister expressed through personal letters to all those who had been part of this historic mission,” Puri said at the felicitation event.
“Air India has always been standing by the nation during any natural calamity or strife and rising above commercial interests to come to the rescue of the stranded where no one dares to tread. And, this urge to rescue comes spontaneously,” said Air India’s Chairman and Managing Director, Rajiv Bansal at the occasion.
Led by Capt Amitabh Singh, Director, Operations, Air India, two teams comprising cockpit and cabin crew, engineers, groundsmen, doctors, security personnel and commercial employees took off from New Delhi on January 31 and February 1, 2020, along with doctors from Ram Manohar Lohia and Safdarjung hospitals to fly back the stranded.
Capt Amitabh Singh speaks about his experience of the evacuation:
Air India has, in the past, been involved in several evacuations, be it from war-torn areas or places struck by natural disaster. But this was the first time that we were going to the epicentre of an epidemic. It was quite worrisome and our orders were to fly in, evacuate and fly out, keeping everyone safe. We had Air India doctors and an expert medical team, and received a lot of support from the Government of India, especially the Ministry of Health.
On landing in Wuhan:
When you are landing in any airport, there is a lot of telephonic chatter, lots of aircraft and you are normally stacked up in a landing sequence, which was not the case in Wuhan. The airport was shrouded in a deathly quiet. When we were descending, we noticed that there were no vehicular or pedestrian movement. After landing, there was no aircraft movement and ours was the only aircraft there. The rest were sealed off.
One of the biggest hurdles we faced was acquiring the visas for the team flying to Wuhan, as we were given just a day’s notice. To get the visas for so many people was a major task. We overcame medical challenges too. We had to ensure that the pilots and the crew did not get infected.
On the evacuees:
They were quite scared, worried and tired when they got on board but there was a sense of relief when they finally settled down. It was not an Air India aircraft for them but India that they had entered. When we took off, there was a lot of cheering and applause for the government. As far as the Maldivians are concerned, they are fellow human beings, so there was no difference.