As the Indian government sought permission from Pakistani authorities to allow PM Modi to fly over Pakistani airspace during his upcoming trip to the United States, social media users reminded the history of Pakistan’s monstrosity of shooting down a civilian aircraft carrying the then Gujarat Chief Minister Balwant Rai Mehta for allegedly entering its airspace.
On 19th September 1965, we were in middle of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. The then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Balwant Rai Mehta, a tall Congress leader died after the civilian aircraft he was travelling with seven others was shot down by a Pakistani airforce pilot near Indo-Pak border in the Rann of Kutch.
Mehta took the Beechcraft Model 18 twin-engine light aircraft to Mithapur near the India-Pakistan border. Former Air Force pilot Jehangir Engineer was piloting the aircraft along with a colleague.
The flight took off from Ahmedabad airport toward Mithapur with Mehta, his wife Saroj, a journalist from Gujarati daily Gujarat Samachar and three aides of Mehta. The flight was expected to land in Mithapur at around 3 PM.
At around 3:30 PM in Pakistan (3 PM IST), Flight Lt A I Bukhari and Flying Official Qais Hussain of the no. 18 Squadron were asked to check a ‘suspicious’ radar contact south-west of Bhuj in Kutch, Gujarat. The duo scrambled and around 15 minutes later, Hussain took off. Around twenty minutes later, Hussain entered Indian Air Space at 20,000 feet.
Hussain then ‘spotted the target’ read that the number started with VT and informed the air base in Pakistan about it. Hussain was asked to standby till further instructions and he kept hovering on top of the aircraft. A few minutes later, Hussain got the message he was ‘clear to shoot’.
Hussain positioned his plane behind the aircraft carrying Mehta which had begun to climb up and wagging the wings to signalling it is a civilian aircraft. Hussain paid no heed and took first shot. A splinter flew off the left wing of the plane. He then fired toward the right wing. The plane was unsteady but still flying. Soon, the right engine caught fire and the took a 90 degree vertical dive. It soon blew into a ball of fire, just off the coast.
Hussain then quickly turned back. Pakistani Air Force shot down a civilian aircraft after entering Indian Air Space because it was ‘flying very close to the border for considerable period of time’. Pakistani Air Force suspected that Indian Air Force was using a civilian aircraft for a recce.
Four days later, on 23rd September, 1965, Pakistani dictator Ayub Khan declared ceasefire.
According to Twitter user Adivaraha, Mehta’s tour to the Kutch area was already announced in newspapers.
Balwantrai Mehta – 2nd chief minister of Gujarat..His plane was shot down by PAF in 1965 while he was touring in the border area of Kutch, Gujarat, knowing fully that it was a civilian aircraft. https://t.co/j57BAd7F2c
— Adivaraha (@vajrayudha11) September 18, 2019
The Pakistani military, which was already humiliated in the war wanted to capture plane carrying him and his wife as a trophy. The Pilot flying the plane carrying Gujarat Chief Minister Mehta was Jahangir Engineer, one of the celebrated pilots of the Indian Air Force.
Forty-six years after the incident the pilot of the Pakistani fighter aircraft pilot wrote a letter to the daughter of the chief pilot of the Beechcraft and apologised to her. In his letter, he went on to blame Indian media from that time for portraying the incident the way they did ‘due to lack of information’.
The letter was addressed only to Farida Singh, daughter of Jehangir Engineer, the pilot. There were seven other people, including the then Chief Minister of Gujarat and his wife, onboard who were killed because the Pakistani Air Force pilot could.
It does not appear that the pilot, who was somehow ‘forgiven’ by the Indian media for the ‘mistake’ after he offered the ‘healing touch’, or the Pakistani government, ever apologised to Balwantrai Mehta or his family. Or the other members who were killed in that ball of fire. It is almost as if they were expendable.