The family was waiting to see him in garlands as a groom but he came back home in a coffin draped in tri-colour.

Men and women, old and young, wearing black badges and black shirts poured in hundreds and filled a narrow street of TVS Nagar in Madurai on Saturday to pay homage to the Indian Air Force (IAF) Flight Lieutenant K.Praveen who died in a chopper crash during the rescue mission of stranded pilgrims in Uttarakhand.

The mortal remains of the IAF Pilot was brought to Madurai by Indian Air Force’s AN 32 transport aircraft from New Delhi at around noon. The body was received by Station Commander of Thanjavur Air Station, K.V.S.N. Murthy and Superintendent of Police, Madurai, V. Balakrishnan.An inconsolable Manjula, mother of the lieutenant, burst into tears on seeing the black box draped with the tricolour carried by the IAF personnel.

Black and white posters carrying the images of Praveen in the IAF garb were pasted across the city by various organisations saluting him as a martyr for the nation. People thronged the roadsides en route his residence from the airport to see the flower bedecked van carrying the coffin.

An IAF Lieutenant who preferred anonymity, said, “Anything related to technology, he was the guy in our unit.” A friend and colleague at his first unit in Bangalore and later at Barrackpore in West Bengal, recalled that Praveen was a sports lover, and a good badminton player. “Though he was offered a job with hefty pay at a software company, he chose to become an IAF pilot,” said a Wing Commander.

District Collector Anshul Mishra placed a wreath and handed over a cheque of Rs. 10 lakh sanctioned by the State government as solatium to his family, in the presence of State Cooperation Minister Sellur K. Raju. Members of various political organisations placed wreaths and paid homage to the IAF pilot.

Later, at around 2 p.m. the body was taken to the modern gasifier crematorium in Moolakarai where a 3-round gun salute was sounded amidst the chanting of a recorded prayer song.

The pilot’s family was grief-stricken. “We were making arrangements for his marriage. But, instead of marriage garlands, wreaths are being placed on his body,” his relatives rued.