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 the 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 of 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 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 deteriorating fast 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.