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Sky warriors: Dhruv, Cheetah proving as life-savers

Army’s aviation wing – or rather the Army’s own air force – existing, much to the chagrin of the real IAF, have deployed four indigenously made Dhruv helicopters and nine Cheetahs, again indigenously built light utility helicopters built in the 1960s and 1970s, are proving to be invaluable.

Of the lot, the Cheetahs are proving to be the most versatile amongst all the ‘whirly birds’ that are dotting the sky right now of the North-Central Himalayas where nature’s deluge has left more than a thousand dead, and thousands homeless, besides leaving a few more thousands stranded.

Be they the mighty Mi-25s or Mi-17V5s or the Dhruvs of the IAF and those of the army, the Cheetahs can land on one skid, even on the three boulders put in a straight line on a mountain terrain, quickly offload cargo and intake casualties, who need to be evacuated quickly and taken to the medical facilities in the safer areas. Of course, being light, the maximum number of people they can accommodate are four, besides the two man crew of a pilot and a co-pilot.

They fly out of the ‘mother base’ in Bareilly of the Central Command, have a flight endurance of two-and-a-half hours, refuel from one of the many dumps, and get on with their jobs.

For those who are still stuck in the nooks and crannies of the mountains, the trekkers, for example, the army has a different plan to rescue them. The Cheetahs and the Dhruvs are flying over the various trekkers’ trails and having para commandos slithering down, doing reconnaissance and locating the stragglers, and take them to the nearest landing zone or where the choppers are hovering and winching them up.

The Uttarakhand operation will probably go down in the history books as one of the world’s biggest rescue and relief operation ever mounted.

At the moment, Kedarnath has been emptied out of the victims; Badrinath still has some population yet to be evacuated.

The army said: ‘In order to speed up evacuation, army engineers commenced construction of steel-made, foot-bridge across the Alaknanda river at Lambagar in Badrinath Valley.  Once completed, evacuation on foot will be more rapid.’
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