During the recent flood relief operations in Uttarakhand IAF responded to this enormous challenge with characteristic speed, resolve and fortitude. On 17 Jun 13, the IAF commenced operations and as reports of the scale of disaster started pouring in; IAF within 48 hours, positioned 45 heptrs of eight different types, operating from eight different locations. Even the Sarang helicopter aerobatic team was inducted to provide greater flexibility in Ops.
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 underslung mode by a Mi-17 V5. This being the first 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.