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.
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 rooftops, 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 the 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 rooftop. 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 a 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 ingenuity 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 all over the world 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 materials 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 the 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”.