When the Home Was Long Away...

A broken aeroplane crashed behind the enemy lines. The Lieutenant eluded the accident scene only to be captured by the enemy. Would he return to the country or his remaining days would be spent in the enemy cells?
Kargil hero with former Prime Minister of India; Source- DNA India

Kargil hero with former Prime Minister of India; Source- DNA India

It was the summer of '99. The peaks of the Himalayas were rocky and barren. There were constant noises that disturbed the peace of the mountains. The battering and beating sounds filled the air as the two enemies opened the attack on each other. The storm of fire skirled and sizzled through the basalt-black sky. India and Pakistan were at war in Kargil.

As the troops on the ground managed on the battlefield, Indian Airplanes dotted the sky. Operation Safed Sagar was a joint mission by the army and airforce; to flush out the Pakistani troops from their motherland in Kargil along the LOC.

One of the planes was under the command of Kambampati Nachiketa, an officer of the IAF. As a Flight Lieutenant and pilot, he was swirling his plane above the Batalik Sector on 26 May.

When he got into the right position, he launched an attack at one of the army camps. However, the operation went south and the engine of the aircraft suffered a flameout.

The plane went swooshing down. Nachiketa had to eject himself out of his MiG-27L. He escaped the crashing point immediately and circled around for two to three hours, trying to find his way back. Until he came across a patrol team, led by Captain Rao Tahseen Ali.

The Lieutenant did not give up immediately. He took out his fire pistol and attacked the enemy, but before long, ran out of bullets.

By the next day, he was captured and imprisoned by Pakistanis and became the first Indian to be held as a Prisoner of War of the Kargil.

For eight days he remained in their captivity and went through indescribable torture. Captain Kaider Tufail, the Director of Operations at the Pakistani Air Force Group interrogated Nachiketa, an interrogation described as "very civil" by Tufail himself. He only wanted to know what forced Lieutenant Nachiketa to eject himself from his aircraft. What was his real mission?

On the other hand, pressures from national and international governments and organisations were forcing the Pakistan government to return the war hero to his motherland.

Finally, on June 3rd, his custody was given to the International Committee of Red Cross in Pakistan which finally repatriated him to India. He came to his motherland from the Attari check-post on the road that connects Amritsar to Lahore, cut by a border that has turned hearts into stone.

Tortured and bruised, broken and torn, he was sent on his way back home, but they could never demoralize him or defeat his spirit.

For Nachiketa, the experience of this captivity was something he could never describe. The Lieutenant felt that death would have been a much better thing than being the prisoner of a country we were at war with.

But this was not the end for our war hero. Despite the injuries and emotional upheaval he sustained; he joined back the army as the Group captain and flew a mid-air refuelling transport aircraft. He suffered from a consistent backache due to an injury that he suffered during the parachute landing and was thus transferred to transports.

The war veteran won the gallantry Vayusena Medal for his bravery and in honour of all that he suffered. Today, he lives in Hyderabad as a retired IAF officer. But still, he hasn't stopped working. He continues his love for flying as a commercial pilot now, refusing to retire from the sky.


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