By Arundhuti Banerjee
Mumbai, Mar 6 (IANS): The documentary "Vande Bharat IX 1344: Hope To Survival" gives an account of the tragic plane crash that took place in August 2020 at the Kozhikode International Airport.
While Sushma Sathe, wife of Captain Deepak Sathe who lost his life trying to minimise the crash impact, watched the entire documentary, she says the process of going through the footages was painful.
"After a point, my children could not watch it, it is about their father, who is their hero. It was tough for me, too, to revisit that memory all over again, and right now even when I am recalling it..." she trails off, breaking into tears.
Sathe looks back at the fateful day with a heavy heart. "It was just another normal day when my husband made a call on his way to airport before the boarding and I knew he was with the Kozhikode-Dubai-Kozhikode flight to bring back Indians stuck in Dubai due to the pandemic. It is his duty. For 21 years in Indian Air Force, followed by several rescue operations in commercial flying, he was an experienced operator over 36 years," She told IANS.
"Every time when he'd go on a rescue operation under tough situations as natural calamities, although I carried a sense of worry in my heart, I saw he came back with flying colours. So when we were chatting on call before he boarded the rescue flight, he said to me, 'I am going and once I land I will give you a call'. What I did not know was it was the last time we were talking and that next call did not come," she added.
Asked about how the news broke to her, Sushma recalled: "I came back from my evening walk and was about to take a shower when my phone rang. I thought it was him but it was my sister-in-law. She asked if I was watching TV and I said 'no, but why?' Then I was asked if my husband was on duty today and I said 'yes, it is Kozhikode-Dubai-Kozhikode'."
"By then, I sensed something was not right. Anxiously, I asked her, 'why?' and the moment she heard it was that Dubai flight her reaction was, 'Oh no!'. That very moment something just shifted within me. I started repeatedly asking, 'why did you say oh, no?' (I told her) Nothing had happened to him, he would call me, he would be back. My sister-in-law said, 'yes but please sit down and put on the TV'. I put on the TV and I was trembling, and then I was numb," she recalled.
She added: "In that rescue operation we managed to save 171 lives and unfortunately 19 lost their lives. My husband Captain Deepak Sathe was one of them. I know that those who returned home safely felt blessed and in their eyes my husband, who was flying the plane under difficult weather, is a hero. But I so wish he returned to us, to me and my two boys. We lost him, and though I am very proud of my husband, I wish he returned because we lost our hero."
The documentary shows how Air India Flight IX1344 was on mission Vande Bharat, to bring back Indian citizens from Dubai to Kozhikode. The plane, a Boeing 737, slid right off the rain-slicked runway, tumbled down a hillside and split in half.
Officials said 19 people were killed and more than 150 were injured, among 190 passengers on board. Captain Sathe, who was the pilot-in-command, and his co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar were among those who lost their lives.
Captain Deepak Sathe belonged to Indian Air Force, and joined Air India in 2005 as a commercial pilot. He was part of several rescue operations including the Bhuj earthquake.
Sathe recalled: "Post Bhuj, the rescue operation was tough. My husband was staying there on duty and since it was not a family centre I was staying in Bangalore with my boys. A few years later when we shifted to a new house in Bangalore, a couple wanted to meet me at our place. They came with a box of laddoos and shared what happened to them. They were among the victims of the earthquake and had lost everything, and both of them were badly injured, their legs amputated."
She continued: "They had two children who, the lady said, at the time were four and two. She told me, 'your husband made sure that we got a good doctor, sent us to Pune, coordinated with the right people and we got our prosthetic legs. Now, our children are going to school and we are doing fine. This is the second life we are living, your husband made it possible'."
Sathe wants her sons to imbibe such values. "That is all that I want from my children and every youngster out there. Do not give up under crisis, take the right action."
"At times, it is not money but compassion that saves human life. Nothing, really nothing, is bigger than saving a life. Having said that, I so wish, the most compassionate man I ever knew could return because only I know what I have lost," she signed off.