As part of ‘Operation Rahat’ in the flood-hit Uttarakhand, the Thiruvananthapuram-based Southern Air Command deployed four of its Advanced Light Helicopters, which are part of its helicopter aerobatics team ‘Sarang’ at Sulur Air Force Station, Coimbatore, for relief operations. They formed part of the overall effort of the IAF in the affected area.

The 151 Helicopter Unit of the Indian Air Force (IAF), also called the Sarang helicopter display team, is the only military helicopter team in the world that carries out four aircraft flying displays and motivates the youth.

It was when the team was preparing for display at Dundigal, Hyderabad, that tragedy struck Uttarakhand. Within hours of receiving the orders, the team took off and repositioned at the Jolly Grant airport, Dehradun.

Assessing the magnitude of the calamity, the team quickly positioned themselves at Gaucher as thousands were to be rescued in a short time. This provided easy and quick access to Kedarnath and Badrinath. Helmet mounted cameras were used to identify new and accessible landing grou nds since most of the helipa ds had been washed away.

Using rocky outcrops in the hills and at times riverbeds, the helicopters were landed in precarious conditions. The aircraft servicing team worked day and night to ensure maximum safety. In a matter of just a week, the team flew more than fifty hours and rescued thousands of stranded pilgrims and local people.

All this while, the aircraft were stretched to their limits. The pilots were confident in negotiating marginal weather and landed on unprepared grounds at the altitudes up to 13,000 ft. The stranded from inaccessible Kedarnath, Jungle Chatti, Gowrikund, and Guptkashi were shifted to safer places.

Led by Wing Commander Ravi Pathak, the daredevil pilots and dedicated engineers and technicians completed this ardous and enormous task in a record time. The team members took on the challenge with great resolve and enthusiasm. Though most of the work has been done, Sarang is determined to stay back till the last person is flown to safety.

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