Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pune’s superwomen saving lives in Sikkim

As the world’s eyes were affixed on TV channels witnessing the horror that unfolded in Sikkim due to the earthquake last Sunday, the heroes of the Indian Air Force (IAF) wasted no time and geared themselves up for the relief work.

One such champion is 26-year-old helicopter pilot Arunima Vidhate — posted at IAF’s Bagdogra airport — who was one of the first ones to conduct survey of the quake-hit area.

“The first thing I saw during the aerial recee was numerous landslides and how areas were cut off because of that. Thereafter our team started relief work, air-dropping food packets, medicines and other relief material for the affected people,” said Vidhate, who has 300 hours of flying helicopters.

She is one of the two women pilots who are part of the 18-member pilot team which is flying small helicopters like ‘Cheetah’ and ‘Chetak’ to provide relief material to the quake-hit areas in Sikkim.

The other woman pilot is PP Ranade, 25. She was initially involved in the ground work but now for the past couple of days she is also flying and taking the relief material to valleys of north Sikkim — which suffered the most destruction.

Recounting her experience, Ranade said: “One thing which strikes me most was the joy among people when they hear the sound of our helicopter approaching them. Their feeling that they have not been left alone and that there is someone for them touched me.” Echoing her views, Vidhate said: “What can satisfy more than watching someone alright whom you had admitted to hospital.”

The ‘superwomen duo’ hails from Maharashtra’s Pune area but as they were asked about their place, they shot back saying they are from India.

Vidhate comes from a defence background and the history of her family in military services goes back to four generations. Ranade, however, is the first one from her family in IAF and joined the force as she ‘loves flying’. Asked if they want to fly other helicopters, they smiled and revealed that their eyes are firmly set on bigger helicopters like Mi-17s.

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