“We gave a smoke signal to let them know that we have reached the site of the wreckage”
[ Junroi Mamai ]
ITANAGAR, Jul 7: Two Everesters from the state Taka Tamut (27) and Kishon Tekseng (28) were part of the 15-member recovery team who undertook the 18-day mission to retrieve the bodies of the 13 IAF personnel from the crash site in Siang district.
Both of them have been trained from National Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (NIMAS) Dirang and had scaled the Mount Everest in May 2018.
Speaking to The Arunachal Times about his experience, Taka Tamut revealed, “It was tough at times, but we never gave up. We knew that it would not be easy when we took up the mission but we still pushed on. I thought about the families of the 11 airmen and felt it my responsibility to help in the search and rescue mission. For me, it was a way to give back to the state government and the institute from where I acquired the skills and experience which also helped me complete the mission.”
“We have the necessary experience and the skills and we wanted to do our bit. When Taka called me up I immediately agreed to join him,” said Kishon Tekseng.
They were both in fact, had been imparting training at an adventure camp at Miao when they came to know about the news of the ill-fated missing AN32 aircraft of the Indian Air Force.
Soon after the camp concluded, Taka had already made up his mind to help in the search and rescue of the missing IAF personnel and tried to contact the authorities to let them know that he along with his friends were willing to join the search and rescue efforts.
“After returning to Itanagar from the adventure camp at Miao, I along with a friend made our preparations and brought necessary equipments with us. On 6 June I, along with my friends, Kishon Tekseng and Tagung Tamut reached Pasighat and contacted deputy commissioners of East Siang, Siang and EAC Kaying over phone and informed them about our offer to help in the search and rescue mission,” said Taka.
The authorities allowed Taka and his team to join the mission and were provided 5 low altitude porters by the Siang DC to carry their equipments.
Taka and his team along with the porters started their trek through the forest braving inclement weather and in the afternoon of 10 June reached Gasheng, which is the last village within the boundary of Siang district.
“At Gasheng village, a woman told us that she saw the aircraft while she was working out at her field. She claimed that the aircraft was flying unsteadily and much lower than usual through the passage between Gasheng and Gate village. She told us that she thought the aircraft would not be able to cross the pass but it did eventually. After getting this piece of information, we set out for Gate village. There in the village, a man who had went hunting at the nearby forest also claimed to have heard a loud explosion but he was unable to tell the location from where the sound came from,” Taka said adding that at that time, there was a lot of confusion as they were getting a lot of reports and finding it difficult to verify the bits of information they received.
All this while Taka and his team kept the Siang deputy commissioner and Kaying EAC informed about all the inputs received so far about the possible sighting of the aircraft wreckage.
“We sent one of the porters back so that the input we have gathered could be sent to the authorities back to the Siang DC and EAC Kaying. The following day, on 11 June the IAF sent MI-17 helicopter on request of the EAC Kaying to carry out a recce of the possible site of the wreckage. A ground team comprising of me and Tagung Tamut along with IAF and Indian army personnel, APEDA deputy director Samar Potom, personnel of Arunachal scout and special forces was formed and we all got onboard the MI-17 at 11:30 am. During the recce the team eventually found the site of the crash but in order to get a better idea of how to approach the site we needed a smaller ALH helicopter. So, the next day, on the 12 June, the ALH helicopter after spotting a suitable area for landing, which however, was very far away from the crash site, landed three alpha teams at three different camp locations from the crash site,” informed Taka.
He was among the first alpha team which landed in the north camp. Three camps were established on the day, the north camp, second or south camp and the third or intermediate camp, each much far away from the crash site. All the said teams landed on the same day with the intermediate camp team at the last, around 4pm.
Taka along with his team which included two IAF and an Indian army personnel were the first to reach the crash site.
“The crash site was located at about 75 degree angle and it was difficult for us to reach there but we managed to take photos for sending the report to the ground. It was late in the afternoon so we could not commence the recovery of the bodies. The next day on 13 June, we gave a smoke signal for the other two alpha teams to let them know that we have reached the site of the wreckage. In the meantime, we collected the CVR FDR from aircraft’s debris but since, the body bags had not arrived we could not carry out the recovery of the bodies. It was on 14 June, that the body bags arrived but unfortunately, the weather suddenly worsened and the bodies could not be retrieved. There was heavy downpour and the area was slippery, it was impossible for us to move the body bags up 200 mtrs and come down again in these circumstances and had no option but to wait for the weather to clear up,” he said.
However, the weather kept worsening and they had to face a tough time as some of the team members fell sick while at the same time, their ration supply was also running short.
“We had received a sortie on the 14 of June but it was meant to last for a single day only. The poor weather condition prevented the IAF helicopter to drop more sorties for us after 14 June. However, on 18 June the IAF was able to drop sorties for the teams. They also took some of the team members from the site. The next day, the IAF was able to take away six bodies and later took another seven on 20 June,” stated Taka.
The search and rescue mission that was jointly launched by the Indian Air Force and the district administrations of West Siang, Siang, Lower Siang and Shi-Yomi had finally concluded after 18 days of its commencement on 29 June.