On 31 January 2008, we were just about finishing breakfast when the wireless set buzzed. Mobile phones had made an entry by this time but their reception in the garden wasn’t great. Therefore, the earlier mode of communication, between the manager and his assistants, was more effectively accomplished over wireless sets.
“An air force jet has crashed in B division,” said the voice on the other end. It was Mr Shankar Pandey, the assistant in charge of B division relaying in the message to burra saab.
The Hasimara air force base was close by
To offer a slightly more detailed background, Bhatpara was a large garden. It was located near Kalchini, which was then no more than a large village. More well known towns in the vicinity were Jaigaon and Hasimara, and a little further east was Alipurduar.
Bhatpara’s two divisions were Acchapara (also called A division) and Bhatpara (termed B division). The combined entity was known by its latter division’s name. Accessing the manager’s bungalow would originally entail driving along a dirt road, that wound its way through B division, and then went ahead and merged with a road in Chuapara Tea Estate. Following Bhatpara’s acquisition by McLeod Russel in 1997, there was an easier access carved out via Chuapara.
On this fateful morning, on what would otherwise have been a regular breakfast, there was a most unexpected event. I too decided to join my husband and see what had transpired.
It was a close call
At a fairly good clip over the dirt road, we made off towards B division. Word had already spread about the MIG-27’s unfortunate end. And garden workers, in large numbers, were also making their way over to see where it had landed. I would, in a short while, also learn that many workers were especially concerned because the aircraft had nose dived right next to a school.
By the time we arrived at the spot, fire attendants had already reached from Hasimara. Several air force officers were beginning to arrive as well. Amid the chaos that seemed to reign, there was a heartening piece of news. Both pilots had managed to eject safely. They’d also landed safe and sound a fair distance away from the crash site.
No casualties or injuries were reported
The school, and its children, were just as fortunate. The crashing aircraft landed only a few metres away from the school building. They felt a tremor and a loud explosion they said. The aircraft’s impact had created a large crater, possibly measuring about 10 metres across. Most of its fuselage was underground, and its debris was strewn over a large area.
The Indian air force officials removed all pieces of debris and whatever else they could salvage of the aircraft.
The events of that January morning, from almost 14 years ago, are still fresh on my mind. When I look back, I think how differently the entire event could have turned out to be. Without any injuries or casualties reported, Lady Luck sure saved the day.