After Losing Son to IAF MiG Crash, Pune Parents Ensure Safety of over 470 Pilots

A MiG malfunction caused their pilot son to crash to his death. The government refused to own up its mistake. This is the story of how the aggrieved parents struggled to clear their son’s name.

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Spatial disorientation. Two words and the entire blame of a young pilot’s death was shifted onto his own shoulders.

When 27-year-old Flight Lieutenant Abhijit Gadgil was called to fly in place of another pilot on September 21, 2001 and lead the ‘night formation’ exercise, he had no premonition about what would happen on that fateful night in Sutagarh, Rajasthan.

“He took off in his MiG-21 and within a few seconds, his aircraft nose-dived into the sands of the dark area ahead. The total flight time was 33 seconds. All over,” recalls Captain Anil Gadgil, Abhijit’s father, while speaking.

“And with this, our whole world turned upside down,” he adds.

Abhijit’s death was a massive blow to the Gadgils and to add to their misery, their son was blamed for the crash that had cost him his life.

The bereaved parents refused to accept that their son’s death was due to his own fault. A three-year fight with the authorities followed, and it finally led to them finding out that the ‘spatial disorientation’ (the inability of a pilot to determine his position, location, and motion in relation to their environment) which caused his death, may have been triggered by a ‘technical malfunction’ in the plane.

The accident that launched the war

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The media calls them the “flying coffins” and the MiG-21 have earned this reputation in the aviation industry due to a series of crashes that have claimed more than 200 lives. The Gadgils actively stay away from this name but in the case of Abhijit as well, a technical issue resulted in the crash, just seconds after take off.

Captain Anil and his wife, Kavita, were determined to fight, not just for their son but for all those pilots who have lost their lives due to faults in the MiG-21 aircraft.

Captain Anil is an IAF veteran who had served as a Wing Commander. He was a part of the Bangladeshi liberation and retired in 1985 after 20 years of service to join Air India as a pilot. He held this position for 20 years.

Kavita had always been the driving force behind Abhijit and Anil, and in the year 2002, she became a crusader demanding justice.

“Kavita came into the spotlight in 2002 as the grieving mother who refused to accept that scores of young pilots like her son were dying in horrific MiG-21 plane crashes in a peacetime environment,” Anil says.

“She submitted a memorandum to the then defence minister, the Late Mr George Fernandes, raising questions on the alarming rate of the fatal accidents of these aircraft and the letter from the Air Force blaming Abhijit’s ‘spatial disorientation’ for his MiG-21 crash.”

Demanding answers to their questions, the family also met the then President, APJ Abdul Kalam.

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It took their persistent efforts for the IAF to concede in a letter that, the ‘spatial disorientation’ might have been the result of a technical malfunction in the aircraft, and that Flt Lt Abhijit would not be blamed for the crash. The President also assured them that a positive trend of MiG safety would be taken up as a serious cause.

If the story sounds familiar, then it might be because Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra’s blockbuster, Rang De Basanti, was partially inspired by the couple’s arduous efforts to clear their son’s name.

Although Anil and Kavita were able to get justice for their son, their journey to immortalize their son’s name continues.

The founding of the Jeet Aerospace Institute

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A piece of land, owned by the couple, near the Khadakwasla dam in Pune became the place of new beginnings. In 2006, they decided to put this land to use and train those who dream of flying for the IAF.

The Jeet Aerospace Institute (JAI) was opened under the aegis of a trust that the couple set up in their late son’s name with support from eminent scientist Dr RA Mashelkar and Kumar Ketkar, a journalist.

While Captain Anil brought 40 years of aviation experience with him, Kavita brought her strength and determination to do all she can to make the JAI a success.

“We designed a mobile twin-jet simulator to train pilots and raised funds to get that built. We also built a small house, a couple of classrooms and a hangar to keep the mobile simulator where pilots are trained to fly in a jet cockpit,” says Kavita.

She mentions that the cost of the project was nearly two crores, and most of the money came from the Gadgil family. Kedar, her elder son, had donated Rs 25 lakh.

Interestingly, JAI has the only mobile simulator in India, a feat recognized by the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) in the UK.

In December 2018, the couple was invited to London to receive the prestigious Flight Simulation Medal (2018) by the RAeS for the “significant long-term contribution, in an international context, in the field of Flight Simulation.”

The institute offers a variety of pilot training courses and so far, JAI has trained over 470 professional pilots—from young commercial pilot license-holders to experienced former defence pilots.

“We have also conducted exposure workshops for a great number of NDA, NCC, SPPU’s (Savitribai Phule Pune University) MTech students and RLMSS girl students. We have also gone on roadshows in Mumbai, Pune and smaller towns to give a glimpse of ‘aviation’ to those who may have seen the airplane only flying in the sky, not anywhere nearby,” Captain Gadgil tells us proudly.

It has been a long journey for the Gadgils to find closure. However, they are still willing to go on and do all that they can for all those “little Abhijits” who remind them of their son with their eyes full of dreams of flying in the sky.

Article Credit: better India


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Indian Army Making India Proud – On and Off the Battlefield

The Indian Army is among the largest in the world in terms of sheer strength, but is second to none when it comes to securing the borders from our adversaries. Over the years, the Indian Army has also played a key role in providing the country with some of the finest athletes.

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Let’s reminisce the achievements of some of the best athletes that the Indian Armed Forces have had to offer to the world of sport.

What do you think Rajyavardhan Singh RathoreMilkha Singh, Jitu Rai, Ram Singh Yadav, Vinay Kumar, and Dattu Bhokanal have in common? The first thing that comes to our minds is that they’re all stellar athletes who’ve made the country proud. But is there any commonality beyond that? the Armed Forces.

All of them have held key positions in the Indian Armed Forces. There is just something about fighting for your nation’s pride, both on and off the battlefield, that gives meaning to the lives of such individuals.

Even if we look beyond Indian shores, we can notice that some of the finest athletes of yesteryears have had the experience of serving in the Armed forces. Whether it’s Sir Bobby Charlton in the UK, Arnold Palmer and Joe DiMaggio in the US or Fritz Walter — Germany’s first World Cup-winning captain — are all testament to the fact that the Army makes for a good cultivator of athletic talent.

The one thing that stands out in both fields and is equally critical is fitness – both physical as well as mental. It might be stating the obvious but an Indian Army personnel and an athlete need to be extremely fit. However, ask them about it and you would know there’s more than just being fit.

When asked about fitness, the 2004 Olympic Silver medalist, Colonel Rathore had claimed, “There are certain basic things in life, things that we have grown up with, like certain principles, or that you respect age rather than status. They form part of your 

character. Fitness for us (in the army) is like that — we have grown up with it. It is something that is basic — a foundation.”

Another area where there’s a clear overlap is in the art of discipline. Soldiers are trained to be disciplined to such an extent that it gets ingrained into their system. The thought holds true for an athlete as well. The lack of discipline has put an abrupt end to the flourishing careers of many athletes but conversely, it has built careers as well. 

Jitu Rai, one of India’s brightest shooters has been a recipient of several awards across global platforms. He is the only Indian to have won two medals at the Shooting World Cup, a feat for which he was honoured with the ‘Arjuna’ and ‘Khel Ratna’ awards.

When asked about the role that the Indian Army played in building his sporting career, Jitu stated, “It has definitely helped. I learned a lot being in the Indian army like discipline and being on time. The army has made me mentally and physically strong.

But that’s not all. In the same interview, Jitu highlighted another quality that both sport and the Indian Army hold in high regard – the ability to not give up despite failure.

He says, “Twice I got the RTU (Return to Unit), in 2007 and 2008, because I didn’t fare well. But all sportspersons have ups and downs. If you don’t fail, you will never learn. It is important to learn from your failures and get better.” A lesson that can help influence a nation.

But perhaps the one facet that connects the Armed forces with sports and resonates deeply within us is the act of sacrifice. Both servicemen and athletes will confirm to the fact that sacrificing everything for believing that your nation and your team is bigger than you is intrinsic.

Milkha Singh is unarguably one of India’s greatest track and field talents. He is also someone who sums up the confluence of sport, Army lifeand sacrifice in the best way possible.

“We had no facilities. We began running barefoot, had no running shoes, no tracksuits, no money, no proper tracks, nothing at all. All that we had was fierce will-power, the will to work hard. We did that and reached where we are.”

These extraordinary individuals from the Indian Army have made the nation proud every time they have taken a stance against an opponent. Their determination and courage have not only provided us with extraordinary life stories but have also given us heroic characters we can look up to.

We salute the Indian Army once again, for providing the nation with an array of such wonderful talent and thank them from the bottom of our heart for rendering their services on and off the battlefield.

Article Credit: CSR Journal

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