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Captain Abhinandan receives Vir Chakra for shooting down Pak’s F-16 fighter jet

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: Indian Airforce (IAF) Group Captain Varthaman Abhinandan, who shot down a Pakistan F-16 aircraft in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack of February 2019, was on Monday awarded the Vir Chakra by President Ram Nath Kovind at an investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan. The Vir Chakra is the third-highest Indian military honour during wartime after Param Vir Chakra and Maha Vir Chakra.

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It is to be mentioned that the Vir Chakra to Abhinandan had been announced in August 2019 but has now been awarded by the President now in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

A wing commander then, Abhinandan Varthaman, 36, was recently promoted to the rank of Group Captain. He was captured by the Pakistani Army on February 27, 2019, after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in a dogfight with Pakistani jets during aerial combat.

Before his jet was hit and had to eject over the territory controlled by the enemy, he downed an F-16 fighter of Pakistan. After being captured, Abhinandan was released on the night of March 1 by Pakistan. He had suffered injuries while ejecting from his MiG-21 Bison during the aerial combat.

“Displaying exceptional air combat acumen and knowledge of the enemy’s tactics, Wing Commander Varthaman Abhinandan scanned the !ow altitude airspace with his Airborne Intercept (Al) radar and picked up an enemy aircraft that was flying low to ambush the Indian fighter interceptor aircraft,” his citation for the Vir Chakra read.

This was in response to a large force of Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft, consisting of advanced fourth-generation F-16 and JF-17, being detected heading toward the LoC at 9.55 am on February 27.

“Abhinandan alerted the other formation pilots towards this surprise threat. He then consolidated the riposte, by gathering his wingman in an offensive formation against the hostile Pakistani aircraft now dropping weapons on Indian Army positions. This audacious and aggressive maneuver forced the enemy aircraft into tactical chaos. All the enemy aircraft thereafter turned back including the rear echelon aircraft who were yet to launch their air to ground weapons,” the citation said.

“Wing Commander Varthaman Abhinandan then pursued a retreating enemy fighter bomber aircraft, and in the ensuing aerial combat, shot down an F-16 aircraft with his on-board missile. However, in the melee, one of the enemy aircraft fired multiple advanced BVR missiles, one of which hit his aircraft forcing him to eject in enemy territory. Despite being captured by the enemy, he continued to display exceptional resolve in dealing with the adversary in a stoic, brave and dignified manner till he was repatriated on 01 March 2019. His actions raised the morale of the armed forces in general and the IAF in particular,” it said, adding that he “showed conspicuous courage, demonstrated gallantry in the face of the enemy while disregarding personal Safety and displayed exceptional sense of duty”.

A high-level medical board of the Indian Air Force later cleared Abhinandan to return to the fighter cockpit.

Days after he returned from Pakistan, Abhinandan conveyed to the IAF brass his wish to resume flying at the earliest.

IAF fighter jets launched an aerial strike on Pakistan’s terrorist training camp ‘Jaish-e-Mohammed’ in Balakot on February 26, nearly two weeks after the Pulwama terror attack. Pakistan retaliated on February 27 by attempting to target Indian military installations.

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