Deepak Sathe was my friend and a longtime colleague. Our lives and careers followed a similar path except that he was a brilliant senior and I was a wide-eyed and often awed junior.
My sense of loss is personal, and I have so far shared my feelings only with my family and close friends. But I notice that some people have already started blaming the pilot, albeit obliquely, without having access to the facts.
That forces me to write this in anguished protest.
Deepak was in the 58th Course in NDA, National Defence Academy, and I was in the 59th Course. He passed out of NDA winning the Bronze Medal, standing third in the Order of Merit among some 300 highly competitive cadets.
In June 1981, he completed his flight training at the Air Force Academy and was commissioned as a fighter pilot, winning the Sword of Honour for being the best Flight Cadet.
Like him, I joined the fighter stream, and got posted to a squadron in Air Force Station Jamnagar, where he too was posted.
After that, we kept meeting off and on throughout our Air Force careers, and our friendship continued.
He became a Qualified Flying Instructor and an Experimental Test Pilot, which is like being the best of the best.
Years later he joined Air India and I joined Air India Express, then a new subsidiary of Air India. We were both based in Mumbai, so we kept meeting often.
Like Deepak, I have decades of flying experience in the Air force and in civil aviation. I have flown the Boeing 737 since 2005, and I have operated from Kozhikode. In fact, I did my Captain’s training there, during the monsoons in 2006.
The accident happened last night and what we know for sure is this:
- The flight landed at about 1940 (7:40 p. m.) IST.
- Low clouds and rain were reported over the airfield.
- Kozhikode International is a difficult airport to land on, because it is on a table-top and there are hills nearby.
- The pilots attempted to land on runway 28, aborted the attempt and landed on runway 10. This information is based on concrete data, not social media.
- After landing, the aircraft could not be stopped within the length of the runway and fell down the steep slope at the end of the runway and broke into two.
These are the only publicly known facts and everything else that anyone says, is still guesswork.
In due course, a Court of Inquiry will come to its learned conclusion based on the data from the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR), Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and sworn statements from the people on the spot.
In any aircraft accident, blaming a pilot is the easiest way. It is, therefore, the favourite path for the lazy and the ignorant. And ignorance about aviation is a common malaise.
The only authentic source would be the outcome of the Court of Inquiry which will take some time. So, let knowledgeable people sift through the evidence and make their report.
Surely, a pilot who gave his life while on duty, bringing stranded Indians home on a Vande Bharat flight, deserves at least a complete Court of Inquiry and not a social media trial.
Please do not give any credence to byte-hungry speculators.
We still don’t know what really went wrong.
So, don’t blame the pilot – just yet.
© Avinash Chikte
Wings courtsey: pngkey.com
Other pictures are from the social media, without attribution.