New Delhi, August 10: In September 1965, as the Indo-Pak war was drawing to a close, a Pakistani fighter jet shot down a civilian aircraft with the then chief minister of Gujarat, Balwantrai Mehta, on board. All eight people — Mehta and his wife, three aides, a journalist and the two pilots — were killed.
Forty-six years later, the Pakistani fighter pilot who shot down the Beechcraft has written to the daughter of the chief pilot of the downed Indian plane, expressing regret over the incident, reports The Indian Express.
“If an opportunity ever arises that I could meet you face to face to condole the death of your father 46 years back I would grab it with both hands,” Qais Hussain has written in an email to Farida Singh, the daughter of distinguished IAF pilot Jahangir Engineer.
Engineer's civilian plane was mistaken for a reconnaissance aircraft by Pakistani controllers, and he was ordered to shoot it down, Hussain has written. There was no intention to kill civilians, he has said.
Hussain told The Indian Express that he would like to write to the families of all those who were killed in the incident to explain that the plane was brought down only because he and his superiors were convinced that they were facing a military aircraft.
In his condolence email to Singh, Hussain, who was the only pilot in his plane, has explained that he carried out all possible checks, but all indications seemed to suggest that Engineer's aircraft was an enemy warplane.
“I did not play foul and went by the rules of business but the unfortunate loss of precious lives, no matter how it happens, hurts each human and I am no exception. I feel sorry for you, your family and the other seven families who lost their dearest ones,” Hussain has said.
The pilot, who left service three years after the incident, told The Indian Express that he had decided to write to Singh to get his side of the story across. “I wanted to say that I was not a trigger-happy chap, and this happened in the confusion of war. It is a small gesture from my side to explain things to the family.”
“I was highly elated after I landed following the shooting down of what I thought was an enemy reconnaissance aircraft,” he said. “But in the evening when All India Radio announced the death of all the people, the mood was not as bright. We were all very sorry and dejected.”
Hussain added that there was no possibility of expressing regret at the time because of the hostile atmosphere in the aftermath of the war.
Hussain wrote the letter after former PAF pilot and writer Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail wrote a detailed account of the incident after interviewing all Pakistani officers connected with it, including the radar controller and operations superviser.
The intention, Tufail told The Indian Express, was to give the factual position and remove any lingering ill will over the incident. “My idea was to bring out the correct picture as little has been written about the incident in Pakistan. The issue was not of proving who was right or wrong, the idea was to find out what happened,” Tufail said.
In his detailed article, Tufail said Pakistani controllers mistook the civilian aircraft for a Packet C 119 aircraft that was being used at the time by the IAF for transport and reconnaissance missions. He also said that the Indian aircraft had strayed into Pakistani territory, and should not have been flying so close to the border during war.
In his letter to Singh, Hussain wrote that the incident was “as fresh in (his) mind as if it had happened yesterday”.
“Your father spotted my presence... and he started climbing and waggling his wings seeking mercy. Instead of firing at him at first sight, I relayed to my controller that I had intercepted an eight seat transport aircraft and wanted further instructions.
“At the same time, I was hoping that I would be called back without firing a shot. There was a lapse of 3 to 4 long minutes before I was given clear orders to shoot the aircraft,” Hussain wrote.
“Nonetheless, the unfortunate part in all this is that I had to execute the orders of my controller. Mrs Singh, I have chosen to go into this detail to tell you that it all happened in the line of duty and it was not governed by the concept that ‘everything is fair in love and war', the way it has been portrayed by the Indian media due to lack of information...
“I hope and pray that you and your family stay well.”