Only 15 days had passed since the Infiltrators on the snowy peaks of Kargil had been evacuated. Many were killed and remaining fled during this “war” in evicting Pakistani infiltrators from Indian Soils. However, as we all know, Pakistan never learns and is always up to some mischief.
This incident occurred exactly 16 years to this date, far away from the cold dessert of Kargil in the hot and sultry region of Kutch. It is famously dubbed as “The Atlantique Incident”.
It was on 10 Aug 1999 that Squadron Leader (Sqn. Ldr.) P.K. Bundela and his wingman, Flying Officer (Flg. Ofr.) S. Narayanan were sitting at Naliya Air Force Base – ready for their flying sorties – when the call came. “Scramble for Intercept!” – a Pakistani “Bogey” airplane had crossed over into Indian Air Space! It was up to this duo to intercept the plane and force it to land at an IAF Air Base for further debriefing.
The 1991 air agreement between India and Pakistan requires all aircraft (other than helicopters) of the two countries to maintain a minimum distance of 10 km from the border; on two occasions the PN Atlantique actually violated Indian airspace at two points.
Within 2 minutes both the pilots were airborne in their MiG-21 BIS fighters. The MiG-21 back then was the mainstay of the Indian Air Force – a beautiful flying machine, probably the best dog-fighter of the 70s and 80s but plagued in India by poor maintenance problems leading it to be dubbed the “Flying Coffins”. As the 2 birds roared onto the right course for interception, Sqn. Ldr. Bundela could now identify the Pakistani aircraft by its heat signature. After some time he could see its markings clearly. It was a Pakistani Navy (PN) Breguet Atlantique from the No. 29 Squadron. Atlantiques are a reconnaissance aircraft but also have the capability to fire Anti-ship missiles.
As both the pilots got into position to radio in the Atlantique pilot to land at an Indian Air Base, the Pakistani Atlantique aircraft acting in a typical Pakistani fashion – it turned on them in an aggressive manner- directly into their flight path! At this point, the Pakistani plane had only 2 choices – lower their landing gear in a submissive gesture or be fired upon or shot down! But the aggressive and challenging behavior of the Pakistani Aircraft left the MiG-21s with no option.
Owing to this aggressive tactic by the intruder, Sqn. Ldr. Bundela got into position to fire and requested permission to engage. Within a few seconds, his radio crackled, “Go Ahead. Engage!” and Bundela fired an R-60 Air-to-Air Infrared Heat Seeking missile. The missile found its target in the left engine of the Atlantique and smoke started billowing from the plane. Mission accomplished the Indian MiGs broke away and returned to base.
As a result of the foolish act of the Pakistani Pilot, all 16 on board the flight – 5 Officers and 11 Sailors were killed in the resulting crash.
Pakistan as usual raised a hue and cry about the whole incident and even went to the extent of seeking damages of $16 million from India in the International Courts. The courts dismissed the matter as it wasn’t under their jurisdiction. It was clear that the IAF acted in a thorough professional manner in this case.
Today it is 16 years to that incident. Unfortunately, no one from the media ever will highlight this incident about the alertness and bravery of our soldiers but will gossip about Bollywood starlets, Cricketers, glorify terrorists and god-men!
Sqn. Ldr. P.K. Bundela was awarded the Vayusena Medal for his bravery in the Incident. Unfortunately, on 4th April 2002, Bundela’s jet crashed after his engine stalled at Supersonic speed. He was forced to eject from the crashing jet. The ejection was not clean and he struck the side of the cockpit, injuring his spine. Sqn. Ldr. Prashant Kumar Bundela like a true warrior fought death for 4 months before finally succumbing to his injuries on 19th August 2002. Sqn. Ldr. is gone but his bravery and his fight to the finish lives on!!
The mainstream media will not remember our heroes because it does not earn them TRPs but we can! Lest we forget our real heroes – remember the Indian Soldiers, Sailors and Pilots – who give so much and asked for a little respect from their countrymen!