Sumit Singh

Wagah border (Punjab)March 1, 2019 : Three days after he was captured by Pakistan, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned to India via Wagah border on Friday night around 9.25 pm.

The national / international media beamed live as he walked over this side of the border and it brought sigh of relief and joy over a billion Indians and many more worldwide who were praying for the safe return of the brave Indian Air Force Pilot to the Indian soil.

A group of IAF officers were present to receive him besides thousands of civilians. People were gathered there since morning. They were dancing, beating drums to welcome the officer. Many people had brought garlands also.

The 34-year-old Wing Commander is a graduate of the National Defence Academy (NDA), Pune, and comes from Thirupanamoor village in Tamil Nadu. He was commissioned as a fighter pilot in 2004. He was an efficient Sukhoi-30 fighter pilot. After his promotion to Wing Commander and he was assigned to the Mi-21 Bison squadron.

Abhinandan is the son of a decorated former fighter pilot Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman, who retired after serving as the Eastern Air Command Chief. It’s a coincidence that S Varthaman had been an advisor for Mani Ratnam’s film Kaatru Veliyidai which was set against the backdrop of the 1999 Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan. His mother is a doctor.

Abhinandan is married to Tanvi Marwah, who is also a retired IAF Squadron Leader and has two children. His brother, too, serves, in the Indian Air Force. Abhinandan is a student of Sainik Welfare School, Amatavatinagar in Chennai.

On Wednesday, the incoming pack of 12 Pakistani fighters, comprising US-made F-16, French-made Mirages and JF-17 fighters made in Pakistan were detected by an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWAC) hovering inside India. Pakistan was responding to air strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Immediately, fighters from Avantipora, Srinagar and other airfields were scrambled. The MiG-21 being the closest, approached the PAF fighters. From a distance, the entire dogfight was picked up the AWAC and also other Indian fighters.

The MiG-21 locked on to the F-16 when it was flying at about 15000 ft and the F-16 at about 9000 ft. The MiG-21 started diving to get a better shot at the F-16. The F-16 took evasive measures. By this time the MiG-21’s pilot had skillfully manoeuvred his aircraft behind the PAF fighter, positioning itself at a sixty-degree angle for maximum impact. It fired a Russian made Vympel R-73 (NATO name AA-11 Archer) missile hitting the F-16. Even as R-73 missile was closing into its target, the wingman of the F-16 now in the crosshairs moved in. He fired his weapon and hit the MiG-21.

Rarely, if ever, has a MIG-21, designed and developed in the 1960s at the height of the cold war, shot down an F-16. The MiG-21 which shot down the F-16 on Wednesday joined the Indian Air Force in 1980s. “The MiG-21’s were upgraded, but the design is the same. It takes immense skill to out-manoeuver a fourth generation fighter. It is similar to taking on a BMW automobile in a race , with a Maruti-800.