On a cold winter morning of 14 December 1971, unaware to anyone, Six F-86 Sabre Jets streaked over the Pir Panjal range, armed to the teeth and with only one objective in mind – destruction of the Srinagar Air Force Base!
As per the agreement with Pakistan, no defensive aircraft were stationed at Srinagar Air Base, only the No. 18 Squadron, “The Flying Bullets” of IAF, flying the Gnat Fighter Jet, was based at Srinagar. Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was serving in the No.18 Squadron.
When the Pakistani jets approached the Srinagar Air base, Flying Officer Sekhon started rolling down the runway and in spite of the mortal danger, took off into the skies. Once airborne, he scored a direct hit on on Sabre Jet and set another ablaze.
Unfortunately, he was grossly outnumbered 4:1 in this firefight and was soon hit. After flying for some time, Sekhon had to eject but since he ejected too late, he did not survive. Despite of all the searches, his body was never found.
Sekhon was 28 when he made the supreme sacrifice for the Nation and protected the Srinagar Air base at all costs. For his bravery, he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra – the only Indian Air Force pilot to be awarded one!!