Friday, January 15, 2010

Pilot son lost to MiG-21 crash, father turns to help school he saved

Wednesday, Dec 30, 2009 at 0424 hrs Chandigarh:

Flight Lieutenant Manu Akhouri’s greatest passion was flying. As a child, his only toys were planes and helicopters and he would rush out to see aircraft flying past. His father, Colonel Sanjay Akhouri, doesn’t know whether the students in a government school at Bhisiana village of Gidderbaha did the same when Manu’s plane went down nearby on September 10, reportedly as the 24-year-old made his best to ensure he didn’t crash into the building.

Three months later, he has decided to help students at the Government Senior Secondary School who may want to become pilots like Manu. He has announced monetary help for those wanting to join the defence services, provided three classes with desks and benches and will give Rs-10,000 scholarships to meritorious students of Classes X and XII.

“Eyewitnesses recount that my son took a left turn to save the school, which is when the incident happened. He chose to steer his MiG-21 aircraft away from habitation, depriving himself precious seconds in ejecting. Though a second Court of Enquiry by the Air Force has now been instituted to conclude the reasons for the crash, I would like to believe that my son sacrificed his life to save that of many others,” Akhouri says.

Manu was returning to the Bhatinda air base after a routine sortie when the accident happened. A first-year engineering student, he had left before the final exams to join the National Defence Academy (NDA). Born in Daltonganj in Jharkhand, he later underwent training on Advanced Jet Trainer Hawks in Britain and was posted to the Golden Arrows, Squadron 17 of Bhatinda, to fly MiG-21s

The Punjab government also wants to name the Gidderbaha school after Manu. “We would like to believe that the young pilot saved the school. He lost his life in line of duty and the least we can do is honour the family’s wish to name the school after him. The Deputy Commissioner of Gidderbaha has been asked to move an application to the Education Department to change the school’s name,” says Gidderbaha MLA and Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal.

Akhouri will be visiting the school early next year to hand out the scholarship and awards. While the question marks over MiG-21 safety haunt him, he says he has no regrets. “Manu was born to fly. Most of his toys were aircraft or helicopters or other flying objects. He used to known even aircraft timings and could identify them by the signs on their tailboards,” he says.

With their son’s next birthday approaching on February 21, he fondly recalls his last one. “I was posted at Aizawl in Mizoram. Manu decided to celebrate his birthday with the tiny-tots of a school where his mother was teaching. Though he did not understand the Mizo language, they all had a ball of a time. He later told his mother that it was one of his most memorable birthdays.”