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COVER STORY

Like an angel in the sky

The operation to bring the pregnant Sajitha to the naval base took only 30 minutes

Happy ending: (From left) Commander Vijay Varma; Sajitha being evacuated; after delivering a baby boy | AFP

IT WAS A DARING mission, and Commander Vijay Varma tackled it with clinical precision. He led the team that rescued a pregnant woman—Sajitha Jabil, 25,—from a crowded area glutted with water in Chengamanad in Aluva in Ernakulam district. Varma, who belongs to the Angels squadron of the Navy, which operates in INS Garuda in Kochi, piloted a Chetak helicopter to save Sajitha. His team has five Chetaks, to be used for life-saving missions at sea and land. “As we operate in Kerala, my team’s name is God’s Own Angels. We are meant to protect people like angels,” he said.

Varma got an emergency message on August 17 to evacuate Sajitha immediately. “I rushed with my team. The position was given to us. We set up the GPS. As we were flying, I saw the roads completely flooded and the location was not clear.”

Varma had the brief that the location was near a mosque, which he could spot. “Also, people were gesturing to us through sign languages and that helped us locate the terrace of the building from where Sajitha was to be evacuated.” He said there was very little space to hover down the helicopter, as the area was filled with trees and power cables. “We waited for some time as we looked down at the obstructions. Any mistake from our part would have been catastrophic.”

Varma, who belongs to Thiruvalla in Kerala, had a co-pilot, a naval doctor and a winch operator on board. “I was the only Malayali. The winch operator was looking down and guiding me. Once he gave me the clearance, I brought down the helicopter even further.”

Sajitha, Varma said, did not have time in her hand. “Her water broke while being trapped on the roof. The weather was very bad and there was a gust of wind.” It was the doctor who was lowered first to examine Sajitha. “He was doing such a task for the first time. With his permission, I told the winch operator to go down, strap Sajitha into a harness, and bring her up.”

Varma said it was the most challenging assignment he has ever undertaken since he joined the Navy in 2000. “While bringing Sajitha up, we did not want to jerk her. We had to make sure that she does not swing like a pendulum and was brought up straight.” Inside the helicopter, the doctor received her and she was seated next to him and taken care of. “We sprinted back to the naval base, where the ambulances were ready. We got her into a stretcher. She delivered a baby boy immediately after that.”

Varma, who had to rescue many others that day, saw Sajitha and the baby after a few days. “I was happy to see her. Though Sajitha was tensed, she cooperated with us and didn’t create any fuss,” he said.

Varma said that during such operations, the fuel in the helicopter was kept low. “For, if we fill the tank, it will increase the weight of the helicopter and cause us problems while hovering down,” he said.

The entire operation to bring Sajitha to the naval base took only 30 minutes. “Tension and fear are bound to be there in people,” Varma said. “It was an alien environment and helicopters make a lot of noise. But everybody cooperated with us, and we did not waste time.”