IAF’s daring rescue of Indians from conflict zones
This approximately two-and-a-half-hour operation between Wadi Sayyidna and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia will go down in the annals of IAF history for its sheer audacity and flawless execution - akin to that carried out in Kabul, in which almost 400 Indians were brought back by the IAF in August 2021 in very challenging conditions following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
In a daring operation carried out on the night of 27-28 April 2023, a C-130J aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) rescued 121 personnel from a small airstrip at Wadi Sayyidna, about 40 km north of Khartoum, the civil war-hit Sudanese capital in northeast Africa. Among the passengers who had no means to reach Port Sudan were medical cases, including a pregnant woman.
The convoy carrying these passengers was led by the Indian Defence Attaché, Col GS Grewal, who was in continuous touch with IAF authorities till they reached the airstrip at Wadi Sayyidna. The airstrip in question had a degraded surface, with no navigational approach aids or fuel, and most critically, landing lights that are required to guide an aircraft landing at night.
Approaching the airstrip, the aircrew used their Electro-Optical/Infra-Red sensors to ensure that the runway was free from any obstructions and that no hostile forces were in the vicinity. Having made sure of the same, the aircrew carried out a tactical approach aided by night vision goggles (NVGs), during an almost dark night.
Upon landing, the aircraft engines were kept running while eight IAF Garud Commandos secured the passengers and their luggage into the aircraft. As with the landing, the take-off from the unlit runway was also carried out using NVGs.
Sheer audacity and flawless execution
This approximately two-and-a-half-hour operation between Wadi Sayyidna and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia will go down in the annals of IAF history for its akin to that carried out in Kabul, in which almost 400 Indians were brought back by the IAF in August 2021 in very challenging conditions following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Four days later, in the midnight hours of 03 - 04 May 23, an Indian Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft airborne from Hindon air base, new Delhi, flew throughout the night to land in the early morning hours at Jeddah. Refueling at Jeddah, the aircraft flew nonstop via war-torn Sudan and back to India. The aircraft took excess fuel from Jeddah to avoid a situation of non-availability of fuel and refueling delays in Sudan. The mission was one of a kind, with the aircraft carrying 192 passengers, mostly ladies, children and elderly persons, who either were NRIs (non-resident Indians), foreign nationals or OCIs (Overseas Citizens of India). These people could not be taken to Jeddah and hence were required to be flown directly to India in a nonstop flight by the heavy jet.
At Sudan, the aircraft carried out an overhead steep tactical arrival followed by an assault approach to land the heavy jet. During the entire duration of the ground operations, the aircraft engines were kept running in readiness for a quick exit from the airfield.
The crew encountered another unplanned emergency when one of the passengers became unconscious during the flight. This situation was immediately and proficiently handled by the crew who administered 100% Oxygen to stabilize him.
Daring mission and high professionalism
The aircraft landed at Ahmedabad late in the evening on 04 May 23 and then at the home base of Hindon late in the night on the same day. The crew thus flew through extended duty periods of nearly 24 hours to get some of the last stranded countrymen back to India.
These rescues of Indians are considered very challenging as they involved movement by night to avoid detection in Sudan, where the airspace is denied and where airports/airstrips from unserviceable, whereas the evacuations from Ukraine and Kabul were done safely in broad daylight at proper airports with the usual formalities.
While the IAF deserves high praise for its daring actions and high standards of professionalism, India’s Ministry of External Affairs and intelligence personnel also deserve kudos for all the coordination involved and for the discovery of an unmanned and abandoned airport 50 km away from Khartoum.
(The author is a former spokesperson of, Defence Ministry and Indian Army. Views are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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