An eyewitness account of Morarji Desai’s survival
A brief spell of anxious moments gave no indication of an air crash with an Indian premier on board.
It happened forty years ago on November 4, 1977 when an Indian Air Force jet with Janata party Prime Minister Morarji Desai struck a patch of treacherous weather seconds before landing at Jorhat in north-east India, skipped the runway, hit an unseen tall tree among thick dark clouds and plummeted in to a paddy field.
Death and injury
Wing Commander Clarence D’Lima, the pilot, and four of his crew perished in the cockpit which broke away from the main frame of the aircraft. They were sucked away to their death. The passengers in the cabin escaped injury but those who were injured were badly hurt.
Desai had planned a week-long trip with his entourage to the far-flung region and his first stop was Arunachal Pradesh. The TU-124 Russian jet from Delhi floated like a bird along the Gangetic plane and the snow-clad Himalayan range simmered in glowing light of the setting Sun.
After two hours the descent started. Then the crash followed.
Prime Minister Desai was helped out. So was his badly injured son.
Search in starless night
In the starless night none knew who were who till after desperate calls villagers streamed with lanterns and torches.
A frantic search for the five-missing crew began in the muddy rice field. They were thrown several feet away. A senior home ministry official John Lobo sighted pilot D’Lima.
The villagers fetched a wooden bench. Lobo put him on the bench as D’Lima looked into the dark night and died. There was no time for help.
In a short span, the other four missing crew were found. All were dead.
The Prime Minister was helped to the nearby Takelagaon village. After a while help arrived. All were moved to a military hospital.
Mr Desai decided to cancel the tour. The Airforce Chief flew from Delhi the next morning to take the entourage back home.
I was a survivor.
NVR Swami is a veteran journalist who has worked in India, Africa and travelled extensively to cover global events. He lives in Auckland.
Photo Caption: Morarji Desai arriving in Palam Airport, Delhi after the plane crash on November 5, 1977.