ROLE OF THE IAF IN THE TSUNAMI RELIEF
OP SEA WAVE; OP RAINBOW; OP CASTOR
On 26 December, the last Sunday of the year, a small news ticker on one of the news channel read "Mild earthquake rocks Chennai. No damage reported". This turned out to be the understatement of the century, as the unfolding events later demonstrated.
An undersea earthquake occurred at 00:58:53 UTC (07:58:53 local time) on December 26, 2004. The earthquake originated in the Indian Ocean just north of Simeulue island, off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The earthquake generated a tsunami that was among the deadliest disasters in modern history, which devastated the shores of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, South India and up to Tanzania, with waves as high as 18 m (55.8 feet). The majority of deaths recorded were in Indonasia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and Maldives.
The magnitude of the earthquake increased from the initial report of 6.8 to 8.5, 8.9, and 9.0. New studies estimate the strength at 9.3; It was the largest earthquake since the 9.2 magnitude Good Friday Earthquake off Alaska in 1964.
The epicentre of the main earthquake was some 160 km (100 miles) west of Sumatra, at a depth of 30 km (18.6 miles) below mean sea level (initially reported as 10 km). This is at the extreme western end of the Ring of Fire, an earthquake belt that accounts for 81 percent of the world's largest earthquakes. The earthquake itself (apart from the resulting tsunami) was felt as far away as Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and the Maldives.
An estimated 1200 km (750 miles) of faultline slipped about 15 m (50 ft) along the subduction zone where the India Plate dives under the Burma Plate. The rupture proceeded north-westerly at a speed of about 2 km/s (1.2 miles/s), beginning off the coast of Aceh before it turned northwards towards the Andaman and Nicobar Islands The India Plate meets the Burma Plate at the Sunda Trench, where it subducts the Burma Plate, which carries the Nicobar Islands, the Andaman Islands and northern Sumatra. Beside the sideways movement between the plates, the sea bed is estimated to have risen by several metres, triggering the tsunami waves. The waves did not originate from a point source, as mistakenly depicted in some illustrations, but radiated outwards along the entire 1200 km (750 miles) length of the rupture. This greatly increased the geographical area over which the waves were observed, reaching as far as Mexico and Chile.
In the aftermath of the resultant death and wide scale destruction, in addition to providing succor to its own, India was quick to extend help to Sri Lanka, The Maldives and Indonesia. Mobilising with impressive speed the first relief package to Sri Lanka was underway within 12 hours of the disaster. The operations were fully underway in the neighbourhood by day 3.
The tsunamis affected 2260 Kms of the Indian coastline besides the entire Nicobar Islands. The tidal waves on the mainland were between 3 to 10 meters high and penetrated between 300 m to 3 kilometers.
One of the peacetime roles of the Indian Air Force is to assist the civil administration in dealing with natural calamities. Over the years the IAF has had fair experience in tackling such situations, what with the air effort put in during the Latur earthquake in central and the Gujarat earthquake in western India a few years back.
After the mild tremors felt along the east coast of India, the first inkling that all was not well was the message received at the Air Force base at Chennai. The Do-228 based at Carnic, switched on its HF at 0730h and transmitted a May Day message to the Oceanic Control Centre, Chennai. The message read as follows:-
"MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, Chennai, Chennai Chennai this is Victor Juliet Golf on ground at Carnicobar. Carnicobar hit by a severe earthquake and flooding of the island by tidal waves. Island is sinking, request immediate rescue and relief".
The Armed Forces launched operation "SEA WAVE" for relief, rescue and evacuation. This was co-ordinated by the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS). On receipt of the first information about the disaster, at 0815 h on 26 Dec 04, Air Headquarter swung into action and set its machinery in motion. A Disaster Relief Cell was set up at Air Headquarter Operations Room, on a round the clock basis.
Two AN-32 aircraft were immediately put on alert in Headquarter Southern Air Command. Other Commands Headquarters were also instructed to keep their aircraft in readiness for the expected Rescue Relief and Casualty Evacuation Operations. The first AN-32 aircraft was launched at 1000h and the second at 1036h for Carnic with refueling halts at Tambaram and Port Blair. Both aircraft landed in Carnic by 1636h. Meanwhile, a Do-228 was also launched from Port Blair, with AFCC on board, for a first hand assessment of the situation.
Command & Control
The overall responsibility for coordinating relief work was given to Headquarter Integrated Defense Staff with representatives from Ministry of Defence, Service Headquarters, Coast Guard, MEA, MHA, MOCA and Ministry of Shipping etc. Meetings were held twice daily to rationalise various relief requirements, to allocate resources for undertaking relief work and to determine future requirements.
Andaman & Nicobar Islands
An Integrated Relief Command was also set up under the LG Andman & Nicobar Islands with CINCAN as the Vice Chairman.
Airlift Resources. As the magnitude of the disaster became clear, resources in addition to the already tasked AN 32 , the AVRO and Do 228 fleets had to be garnered. With the normal air logistic operations underway, only two IL-76 aircraft were available for relief work. Two IL-78 aircraft were also de-modified and pressed into the relief operations. Four Do 228, Four AVROs, Seven IL-76s, 15 AN 32s and 16 Helicopters were pressed into action for this Operatioins.
Air Effort for Coastal States. As an extensive and effective land transport communication system exists on the mainland, the Air Force involvement for the relief was rather limited. Since the damage was restricted to immediate coastal areas with rest of the support infrastructure intact the air effort requirement was relatively less and surface transport was used for relief operations. However, air effort was used for reccee of affected areas, Cas- Evac, rescue operations and a few sorties for landing bulk supplies. A total of 67 sorties and 96 hours, were flown towards this task.
Speed was of essence in order to save precious lives and to mitigate further effects of the disaster. A massive airlift operation was therefore put in place from the mainland. The aircraft involved were heavy lift IL-78/IL-76, medium lift An-32, AVROs and Do-228. The Heptrs used were MI-17, MI-8 and Chetak/Cheetah.
The Air Bridge. An Air Bridge was soon established for the A&N islands, Sri Lanka and The Maldives; the main hub-centres were Delhi, Chennai, Tambaram and Carnicobar/Portblair. While airlift operations were undertaken from all over the country. Bulk/major supplies were lifted from Delhi/ Bombay/ Calcutta/ Bhubneshwar/ Ahmedabad and flown directly to Carnicobar by the IL-76/78 aircraft. At the Indian Air Force base at Car Nicobar, owing to water ingress and sustained IL-76 Operations, the runway was declared unfit for IL-76 Operations on 04 Jan 05. Thereafter, IL-76 aircraft normally landed only at Port Blair, except when operationally essential/unavoidable.
Operation 'SEA WAVE' : Airlift Operations for Andaman & Nicobar Islands
The first two An-32 aircraft landed at Tambaram and from there proceeded to Port Blair/Carnic after readjusting the load to 3.2 T. Refuelling was not available at Carnic due to suspected contamination. However, fuel was subsequently declared fit at Carnic. Average round trip from Hyderabad -Tambaram-Carnic-Port Blair-Tambaram-Hyderabad was 11 hours.
From Port Blair and Carnic, the southern islands such as Campbell Bay, Nan Cowry and Katchall etc were supplied by Heptrs/AN-32/Do-228 aircraft. The Landing strip at Campbell Bay remained available for Operatioins.
Additional Helicopters. In order to meet the additional requirement of airlift resources for Southern Island Operations, five additional heptr were flown in from the mainland to Carnic following the land route of via. Chittagong-Yangon-Diglipur-Port Blair-Carnic. The ac were in place and operational by 02 Jan 05.
Operation 'RAINBOW': Airlift Operations for Sri Lanka
At the request of Sri Lankan Govt six medium lift helicopters were sent to Sri Lanka to undertake relief Operations. Three helicopters positioned on 27 Dec 04 and three on 28 Dec 04. The helicopters undertook Cas Evac, distribution of relief supplies, deployment of medical teams and air dropping of food while operating from Katunayke and Minneriya bases.
Total air effort involved including ferry of aircraft, was 445 missions, 316:10 hours and tonnage and pax lifted were 328.845 tonnes and 882 respectively. The helicopters returned on 22 Jan 05.
Operation 'CASTOR' : Airlift Operations for Maldives
Two Para drop modified, long range AVROs were tasked to proceed to Maldives on 28 Dec 04 at the request of Maldives Government for assistance. These aircraft undertook inter-island operations within Maldives carrying out landings on various short field runways. Their task was to undertake Cas Evac, air landing of food, water and other supplies and deployment of medical teams.
Total air effort involved was 155 sorties 198.00 hours and tonnage and passengers lifted were 169.425 tons and 885 respectively. The ac returned to India on 31 Jan 05.
Salient Features of Air Operations.
(a) Flying Time. Average flying time for an IL-76 round trip was about 10 hours. For the An-32 it was even longer.
(b) Loading /off loading time. The "On Ground Time" on an average was 6 hours for loading and 3.4 hrs for off-loading.
(c) Refuelling Constraints.
No fuel was initially available at Carnic due suspected contamination. An-32s had to refuel at Port Blair and other aircraft at Chennai.
(d) Crew Fatigue and Flight Safety. After the Bhuj experience, these aspects were kept sharply in focus.
(e) Status of Navigation Aids/Runway Lighting. There is an urgent need to upgrade the status of Navigationl Aids/Runway Lighting.
(f) Type of Relief Equipment. The relief equipment ranged from basic feed, water, shelter medical hospitals to generators, boring equipment, common equipment and building material etc.
FLOOD RELIEF EX- KURNOOL
Unprecedented rains in North Karnataka from 29th Sep 2009 onwards flooded several districts and cut off areas like Bijapur, Bagalkot and Bellary, some places receiving over 50 cms of rains in a single day. The floods inundated the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers. Karnataka released 25 lakhs cusec of water from Almatti and Narayanpur dams in a single day, a record of sorts. With Andhra Pradesh itself in a grip of severe rains in the last week of September, all reservoirs were brimming to their capacities. On First October, reports were received that water levels were rising dangerously in the town of Mantralayam. The water levels rose so much that it submerged most of the villages inhabited as far as one km from the normal river bank. That condition of these villages was critical is an understatement.
Rescue by a Helicopter
The water levels were so high that a village which was about one km away from the river bank was also totally under water. The nearest bank was too far away now and the water levels were as high as roof tops. With water levels still rising and most lives hanging around on these roof tops, villagers were not sure whether they were going to survive the next hour or not.
To their rescue came the helicopters of the Indian Air Force. Four helicopters of IAF under the command of Gp Capt Rajesh Isser were tasked to provide relief and rescue operations to the people of flood affected parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. On Second of October, the task was challenging as operating conditions were critical with villagers in a dire state of survival. Marginal weather made the task even more challenging. The flood relief and rescue missions were carried out with a zeal and passion rarely seen, yet in a most professional manner by the air warriors of the IAF.
To add to the tough conditions, the fuel bowser was unable to reach Kurnool due to the breaks in the road bridges over Krishna and Tungabhadra. On one side the fuel bowser was stuck 20 nm short of Kurnool town and on the other the fuel requirement was mandatory to continue any type of rescue/relief operations. Analysing the gravity of situation, the Task Force Commander got airborne and on assessment of the situation realised that there was no clear dry ground available to allow the bowser to approach without getting bogged down owing to rains. Keeping in mind the Flight Safety aspects, a landing spot on the national highway was selected and a decision to operate from the NH-7 taken. The rescue and relief missions continued.
A total of eight rescue missions saved 47 lives that would have surely perished. Each mission was a daunting and challenging experience in itself. The missions varied from picking up people from roof tops to those surviving on trees. In one case, a total of nine lives were stuck on a roof top. The increase in water flow washed away half of the house along with four persons, leaving behind the remnants with remaining five persons hanging on between life and death. To their fortune, and within no time, a Chetak helicopter came as a saviour. All of them were winched up in the nick of time as per the District Collector’s report.
In another case, a family of four consisting of husband, wife and two small children aged between four and six each were stuck on a tree in the centre of the fast flowing river. It was not an easy task to rescue these people from the centre of tree with all its branches spread around. No orders or procedure exists that specified the manner in which such a mission could be undertaken. The crew of the Chetak helicopter used their ingenuinity and experience and rescued the entire family in a most professional yet flexible approach. After their rescue, the crew noticed that their condition was very critical and their skins were totally parched and coming out in flakes. They had been stuck in that tree for over 72 hours without food, water and sleep. Every such mission makes helicopter pilots the world over feel proud of their machines.
Many relief missions were carried out during the seven-day ordeal. A total of 1,20,000 kgs of relief material including water, food and medicines were dropped to the victims who were in dire need. People were stuck on roof tops and the small Chetak helicopter was able to carry out drops accurately roof-to-roof. It was a difficult task as the area to drop food/water was very small and in the centre of a furious and fast flowing river. The IAF carried out these operations in a most accurate and efficient manner. These relief material were not only a must for their physiological needs but more importantly to generate in the victims ‘a will to survive’ and a ray of hope to live another day.
All missions were efficiently carried out by seven helicopters of the IAF. Each mission, whether it was a flood relief operation by the pilots or a rescue mission, was a daunting task taken on with professionalism. The entire mission can be rightly summed up in the words of District Collector of Kurnool in the press conference on 07 Oct 09 where he stated “…. The people of Kurnool will always be indebted forever to the efforts of helicopters of the IAF. Not only did the IAF save 47 lives, but helped 6000-7000 people everyday to believe that survival and help was just around the corner”.
Landing of a Helicopter on the Highway
ASSISTANCE TO GOVT OF TAMIL NADU DURING FLASH FLOODS BY IAF HEPTRS
Govt of Tamil Nadu approached IAF to rescue 04 civilians stranded on trees during a flashflood in the middle of river Cauvery close to Hogenakkal waterfalls. The civilians had been stranded post noon hours on 04 Aug 12. Two ALH of 151 HU located at AF Stn Sulur were tasked to undertake the rescue mission with 02 Garud commandos carrying additional rescue equipment onboard each helicopter. Weather was conductive for the operation however, strong river currents, dense foliage and intense bird activity were main impediments.
Survivors were finally spotted in the midst of a cluster of trees and the lead aircraft set up a hover OGE clear of the tree canopy for winching up the survivors. The second helicopter hovered nearby providing a continuous commentary on both clearance from trees as well as on the extensive bird activity in close proximity. Under guidance of the Flight Gunner, the captain maintained steady hover over the rescue spot and the onboard Garud commando was winched down. With great difficulty, the commando managed to locate the survivor, secured him with the additional safety harness and having held him tightly, both were winched up onboard. 02 survivors were rescued during the initial operation. Both aircraft then got airborne again to locate the fourth survivor who was stranded at a different location. The foliage there was extremely dense and there being no indications from the survivors on ground, an prolonged hover was required to spot the survivor. He was subsequently winched up by the crew with help from the Garud commando and taken ashore to safety.
SORTIE REPORT ON MISSION UNDERTAKEN BY 132 FAC FLT HEPTRS ON 22 - 23 JAN 13 FOR POWER GRID CORPORATION
In mid Jan this year, due to heavy snowfall in J&K, life in the entire region was thrown out of gear with Srinagar valley having partial power failure due to the HT lines at Banihal Pass getting buried under snow. On 21 Jan 13 Power Grid Corporation of India approached Indian Air Force to assist them in power restoration. The Cheetah unit based at Udhampur was tasked for this challenging and important mission to airlift a repair team to Banihal top as they needed to carry out repairs on the 300 MW power line. Wg Cdr Nitin Batra, the flight commander with Sqn Ldr Milind as Co pilot and Flt Lt Raja as the winch Operator were detailed to undertake this high risk mission.
The mission required selecting a suitable spot on top of the ridge line close to the HT power line that was to be repaired and thereafter drop seven personnel at the selected site by landing or if required winching. The mission involved a high degree of risk in dropping these personnel close to High Tension Cables and Pylons at about 10,000 feet near Banihal pass in an area known for high turbulence and strong winds.
On 22 Jan the crew undertook a recce of the area close to the buried power lines and after a 30 min recce found that the area was at about 9500 feet and completely snow bound. In addition as the site was on top off the ridge there were strong winds blowing which ruled out the possibility of winching the team. However, a landing site was selected in the undulating and snowbound terrain.
Thereafter the crew carefully assessed the obstructions near the site, as the general area was on a ridge top, unprepared and close to the high tension pylon, the crew initially carried out a low hover to ascertain the landing point. After assessing the slope, gradient and depth of snow a sit down was carried out. Since it was about 1300 h by now and enough time did not exist to drop the personnel and pick them up after repairs before sunset, keeping Aerospace Safety considerations in mind, it was decided to carry out the mission the next day morning.
On 23 Jan 13, Wg Cdr N Batra along with Sqn Ldr Milind got airborne for the mission at 0845 h. One person with the equipment was picked up from lower Banihal and dropped at the site selected the previous day. This was followed by dropping the remaining six personnel by 1015h in three shuttles from lower Banihal.
The helicopter returned to Udhampur and was to return after refueling. However W/C Batra realized that the weather was fast deteriorating and the repair team had to be picked up at the earliest as they were in a snowbound area with no means to fend for themselves. He immediately took another helicopter and in difficult circumstances once again carried out four shuttles from the site to lower Banihal and got the entire team down. Meanwhile a second helicopter got airborne from Udhampur and assisted in getting all personnel back to Udhampur.
Two forward focal points were set up at Dharasu and Gauchar. Further, flying detachments were created at Jolly-grant, Pithoragarh, Dharchula, Joshimath, Rampur, Bageshwar and Shimla. Makeshift helipads were constructed in record time, and on occasion, personnel were even winched down to create air operations facilities.
These forward locations were operationalised with infrastructure build up such as positioning of fuel and Air Traffic Control. Mi-26 was pressed into service to ferry entire fuel bowsers to forward locations. Use of the transport fleet with the C-130 aircraft to innovatively induct fuel, essential for sustenance of relief operations was resorted to. Mobile Air Traffic Control vans were inducted at Dharasu and Gauchar.
During these operations, remarkably in 65 days, IAF undertook 3536 missions and airlifted 23892 civilians and carried 797.589 T of valuable relief material a Herculean effort indeed by any standards.
The recent flash floods often dubbed by the media as 'Himalayan Tsunami' which ravaged the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal in Jun 13, saw in their wake; some gallant and spirited rescue missions flown by IAF transport and helicopter fleet in the form of 'Op Rahat'. In addition there were also some civil helicopters as well operating towards relief ops in these valleys. One such helicopter operated by Pawan Hans had been damaged due to a hard landing at Harsil helipad and the wreckage was lying at the helipad since then. IAF was approached by Pawan Hans for recovery of this helicopter.
The operations were undertaken in a very systematic, methodical and professional manner. The recovery route from Harsil to Dehradun was majorly through the Bhagirithi/ Ganga valley. This valley is extremely narrow at places with no turning radius being available, and also infested with a heavy network of High Tension Cables crossing the valley at places over tall pylons. In addition due to the location of Harsil at the confluence of three valleys, the winds get strong and turbulent post 0900 hrs. It was the precise coordination between aircrew, ground crew and all agencies involved that resulted in safe recovery of a crashed civil helicopter in under slung mode by a Mi-17 V5. This being a first such mission flown on this type of helicopter, both man and machine operated to their limits within the safety margin to execute the missions in time. Overall, the operation brought out the real mettle of a helicopter crew and at the same time once again proved the versatility of V5 as a platform.
0n 17 Aug 13, British Embassy in India approached Indian Air Force for evacuation of a British national stranded on the icy slopes of Saser Kangri. Mr. Andrew Dean Parkin a British national, was caught in an avalanche & got swept into a crevasse. The fall caused a serious back injury to Mr. Parkin due to which he was unable to move his legs. The other members of the expedition pulled him out of the crevasse & immediately asked for emergency evacuation through their organising agency & the British Embassy.
A two helicopter rescue team was tasked from 114 HU AF. Casualty was successfully evacuated despite constraints of bad weather, white out conditions and turbulent wind conditions and restricted area of ops at the designated place of evacuation.