”We‘re losing height. I repeat, we are…”
The alarms were screaming incessantly while the dials showed the worst possible news. The massive Russian-built aircraft was renowned for its reliability; but that even that plane was doomed.
“I repeat, we are losing altitude”
“Twelve thousand feet, and dropping”, added the co-pilot.
“Mayday, mayday, aww shit!” The pilot threw away the headphones just as smoke started coming out of the ear pieces. He finally left the controls. They only had a few minutes left.
“The smoke has stopped,” Singh said pointing to one of the engines outside, “Let’s try the engines again.”
“That’s because the fuel has finished. There’s nothing left to burn,” replied his copilot.
The Iiyushin II-78 MKI was a Russian cargo plane. The plane had seen eight years of service in the Indian Air Force since it was commissioned in 1999.
The black box was set on 3rd June 2007. The last recorded transmission of that day was from Captain Hari Singh, “Engine 1 failure. Mission compromised. Will reach zero altitude in T-minus 6 minutes. Hari Singh out.”
The Himalayas stood tall beyond the looking glass. That was the idea. Nothing was visible in the snowstorm. But they were already near the level of the mountains. The pilots were totally dependent on their radars and their instinct. That was not enough.
Mohit arrived with the parachutes. “I’ll stay. You can leave, sir”
The captain completely forgot. There was only one parachute.
But for who?
Captain Hari had Mohit as his co since he joined the Kashmir Division. And Mohit Chawla proved to be a more than capable partner, and eventually became a valuable friend.
“No.”, the captain replied at once.
Before Mohit was about to retaliate, Hari intervened, “And as your senior officer, I order you to abandon ship!”
Mohit stared blankly at his superior and returned to the cockpit. That was Hari’s cue.
Hari opened the rear hatch door. Mohit stepped up and the two men faced each other. This was going to be their last mission, and this was their last goodbye. Mohit’s hands were shaking furiously as he held his chute. They were the heaviest objects he had ever lifted in his life. Throwing out the parachute felt like the best thing to do.
Hari knew his partner’s pain but was sure about his decision. At the age of 34, Mohit had a long life ahead of him.
The two embraced each other for the last time. It felt impossible to let go as both the men wept silently while they clinched onto each other. Tears hit their shoulders like bullets. Finally, Hari pushed his friend away. They were now out of time.
“It’s time,” Hari said.
Mohit took position to jump. Nobody uttered another word. The deafening noise of the wind rushing inside the craft’s hull felt more silent than silence itself.
Mohit counted in his head, ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1.’ And he moved.
Hari’s head was spinning wildly as he tried to recall what had happened. As the world around him slowly came back, he saw Mohit tying him onto something. Moments later, Hari understood.
Instead of jumping off Mohit hit his captain by complete surprise. After knocking out Hari, Mohit was fast to fasten the chute to the captain. Hari was too strong to be confronted directly, so a blow to the head was improvised. The moment Hari gained consciousness, he was thrown overboard.
Hari screamed in rage but there was nothing he could do. The plane looked smaller and smaller as he fell further away from the burning fuselage. He pulled the cable and the chute opened. He could see only a faint outline of the craft as it disappeared into the clouds.
Mohit re-entered the plane as Hari went out of view. Eventually, the mountains became visible. Moments later, the plane crashed.
Days later, a rescue team finally extracted the war veteran out of the area. A few days later, Captain Hari Singh resigned from his post and took voluntary retirement.
Mohit Chawla was one of the many noble men who gave up their lives in the service of others and in the service of their nation. Sadly these real life heroes are known to only a handful of people but everyone owes their freedom to such individuals.
The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.
Next part, An Old Friend
This short story has been submitted to a yeah write weekly writing challenge and the Daily Post prompts: Foreshadow, Dilemma, Fearless, Hesitate, Shared Journeys, Second Thoughts, Daring, Survival, Panic, Snapshots, Risk, Disaster, Sacrifice and Inevitable