Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht, one of the pilots of the ill-fated Mi-17 helicopter that crashed at Budgam near Srinagar in February last year during heightened Indo-Pak tensions following IAF strike on terror camps at Balakot in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, has been decorated with the Vayu Sena Medal for gallantry. He belonged to Chandigarh, where his parents are residing for the last about two years.
While the other pilot, Sqn Ldr Ninad Mandavgane, who belonged to Nashik, has also been awarded the Vayu Sena Medal, the other four aircrews, who were traveling in the helicopter at the time of the incident, have been mentioned-in-dispatches for gallantry, an IAF spokesperson said.
“Though nothing can bring back my son, I am happy that his services have been recognized,” said Siddharth’s father Jagdish Kasal, who had served in the Army before joining Punjab National Bank as an officer.
They were serving with 154 Helicopter Unit based at Srinagar and had been airborne for about 10 minutes when the incident took place.
The air combat in which Wg Cdr Abhinandan shot down a Pakistani F-16 had taken place around the same time. A large number of IAF fighter aircraft were airborne and air defense were on high alert and there was significant air activity across the LoC.
The crash was later attributed to “friendly fire”, having been shot down by the IAF’s own surface to air missile that was launched in what is called the “fog of war”. A court of inquiry instituted to investigate the incident has held two officers blameworthy for the lapse and subsequent proceedings are underway.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, was recently quoted in the media saying that the incident was a big mistake on part of the Air Force and appropriate remedial measures would be taken.
A fourth-generation officer commissioned in 2010, Sqn Ldr Vashisht, who was 31-years old at the time of the incident, left behind his wife, Aarti, also a Squadron Leader, and a three-year-old son Angad, besides his parents and three sisters. He was the youngest of four siblings. Aarti was also posted at Srinagar at that time.
On Republic Day last year, he had also received a commendation for his services.
Siddharth had studied at Shivalik Public School in Sector 41 and thereafter at DAV College, Sector 10, before opting to join the forces. He was adventurous and fond of outdoor life and was keen to be a flier.