Group Captain Abhinandan Varthaman, who was held captive for three days by Pakistan after he chased and downed a Pakistani fighter jet in 2019, was awarded Vir Chakra, third highest wartime gallantry award, by President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday.
He was among several other military officers who were presented Gallantry awards and Distinguished Service decorations in a defence investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan. It was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and several other dignitaries.
“President Kovind presents Vir Chakra to Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Varthaman Abhinandan. He showed conspicuous courage, demonstrated gallantry in the face of the enemy while disregarding personal safety and displayed exceptional sense of duty,” Rashtrapati Bhavan tweeted.
Downed Pakistani jet
Wing Commander Varthaman downed a Pakistani jet on February 27, 2019, before his MiG 21 Bison was hit and he had to eject in Pakistani territory.
A day after the Balakot airstrike, Pakistan launched a retaliatory strike against India. The citation read out at the ceremony said several Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft, consisting of advanced fourth-generation F-16 and JF-17, were detected heading toward the Line of Control (LoC) around 9:55 a.m. that day.
The citation pointed out that Wing Commander Varthaman, displaying exceptional air combat acumen and knowledge of the enemy’s tactics, scanned the low-altitude airspace with his Airborne Intercept (AI) radar and picked up an enemy aircraft that was flying low to ambush the Indian fighter-interceptor aircraft. He alerted the other formation pilots about the “surprise threat” and then consolidated the riposte against the hostile aircraft that were attempting to drop weapons on the Indian Army positions.
“This audacious and aggressive manoeuvre forced the enemy aircraft into tactical chaos. All the enemy aircraft thereafter turned back including the rear echelon aircraft that were yet to launch their air to ground weapons,” it said.
Wing Commander Varthaman then pursued a retreating enemy fighter bomber aircraft, and in the ensuing aerial combat, shot down an F-16 aircraft with his onboard missile, it noted.
“However, in the melee, one of the enemy aircraft fired multiple advanced BVR (beyond visual range) missiles, one of which hit his aircraft forcing him to eject in enemy territory,” it stated.
The citation added that despite being captured by the enemy, he continued to display exceptional resolve in dealing with the adversary in a brave and dignified manner till he was repatriated on March 1, 2019.
Shaurya Chakra presented
Major Vibhuti Shankar Dhoundiyal was posthumously given Shaurya Chakra for his role in a counter-insurgency operation, where five terrorists were eliminated and 200 kg explosive material was recovered. The award was received by his wife, Lt. Nitika Kaul, and his mother.
The second highest peacetime gallantry award, Kirti Chakra, was posthumously awarded to Sapper Prakash Jadhav for neutralising terrorists in an operation in Jammu and Kashmir.
President Kovind also presented Shaurya Chakra posthumously to Naib Subedar Sombir for killing a dreaded terorist in an operation in Jammu and Kashmir.