It is the responsibility of the armed forces to come to the nation’s rescue during testing and precarious situations, and trekkers who were distressed and stranded in the forest fire that advanced beyond control in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu on Sunday, witnessed this deeply ingrained sense of duty first-hand, when they found help straight from the sky!
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was approached by Edappadi K Palaniswami, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and following her assurance of direct intervention, an Indian Air Force rescue team comprising of Mi-17 & ALH (advanced light helicopter) helicopters, was immediately deployed into action by nightfall to trace the stranded trekkers.
A group of 36 students had been on the ill-fated trekking expedition on Kurangani hills in Bodi, out of which ten succumbed to the massive fire.
Starting with an aerial probe of the expanse where the trekkers had been stranded, two other copters were pulled in to douse the fire.
Using the GPS location obtained during the aerial survey on Sunday, a team of 35 IAF personnel including a medical team were deployed to Bodi from Sulur Air Base, while 16 commandos of the Garud Commando Force went afoot along with the local team across the hilly terrains at 5 am on Monday.
According to The New Indian Express, the choppers were able to locate some of the trekkers through signals made by their torch and phone light.
Of the 27 people rescued by the team, 14 were grievously injured and were immediately taken to hospitals in Bodi, Theni, and Madurai. The rescue mission team also helped to recover the corpses of the trekkers who died in the fire, which were identified by a team headed by the SP of Theni.
The choppers then airlifted the bodies to a temporary helipad erected in the playground of a private college, following which these were taken to the Theni Medical College Hospital for post-mortem.
After 21 sorties of firefighting and rescue operations, the six-hour long mission finally concluded at 11 a.m. It had indeed been a gruelling and risky mission as the helicopter had no proper zone to land over the hilly terrain, besides the risk of low flying over such a topography.
A salute to all the air warriors and other ground teams, who worked collectively to rescue the stranded trekkers. Had it not been for their well-timed intervention, there would have certainly been a higher number of casualties due to the the forest fire.