Updated May 27th, 2024 at 12:31 IST

Op Safed Sagar: Remembering Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja's Daring Mission to Rescue a Fellow Officer

On May 27, 1999, during Op Safed Sagar, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja was shot down while on a search mission to locate a fellow officer behind enemy lines.

Reported by: Yuvraj Tyagi
Squadron Leader Ahuja's sacrifice serves as a poignant reminder of the selfless dedication. | Image:Republic
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Kargil: On this day in 1999, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, serving with the Indian Air Force's 17 Squadron, embarked on a search mission during Operation Safed Sagar amidst the full swing of the Kargil War. His mission, like many others during this tumultuous time, was fraught with danger as tensions soared along the Line of Control.  During this mission, Ahuja’s MiG-21 was struck by a surface-to-air missile fired by Pakistani forces, leading to his ejection behind enemy lines. Despite the perilous situation, Ahuja's courage and commitment to his mission remained unwavering.

Squadron Leader Ahuja's journey to this pivotal moment was one of dedication and service to his nation. Born on May 22, 1963, in Kota, Rajasthan, Ahuja's path was destined for the skies. Educated at Saint Paul's Senior Secondary School and later the Indian National Defence Academy, he was commissioned as a fighter pilot on June 14, 1985.  

Operation Safed Sagar: Behind Enemy Lines  

It was during the Kargil War that Ahuja's courage and valour would be put to the ultimate test. On May 27, 1999, Squadron Leader Ahuja was leading a two-aircraft mission for Photo reconnaissance of Pakistani positions in Batalik. However, while getting airborne, Squadron Leader Ahuja learned over the radio that a fellow officer, Flt Lt Nachiketa had ejected in the vicinity of Muntho Dhalo. Realising the necessity of immediately locating his buddy, Ahuja changed the mission profile and set course towards Flt Lt Nachiketa’s last known coordinates. Despite being informed of the perils of surface-to-air missiles in the vicinity, Ahuja maintained course.

As he flew over the treacherous terrain of Kargil, his Mig-21 aircraft came under enemy fire. During the engagement, Squadron Leader Ahuja gave a radio call, "Hercules, something has hit my plane, the possibility of a missile hit cannot be ruled out, I am ejecting over (location).”

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Hit by a Pakistani Stinger missile, Ahuja's MiG-21 plummeted towards the hostile landscape below. In a split-second decision, Ahuja ejected from his stricken aircraft, parachuting behind enemy lines. His fate, now hanging in the balance, symbolized the resilience and bravery of India's armed forces in the face of adversity. As per reports, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja had ejected successfully and survived the touchdown but was later captured and executed by Pakistani soldiers.  

Pakistan Accused of Cold-Blooded Murder 

On May 28, 1999, Pakistan handed over the body of Squadron Leader Ahuja to the Indian Authorities. The body bore two bullet injuries. Furthermore, Ahuja’s left knee was found fractured. As per the Indian authorities, Ahuja fractured his knee while parachuting down and was shot by the Pakistani soldiers upon being found. Ahuja’s death was called as a cold-blooded murder. Anger and indignation swept across the nation as citizens mourned the loss of a brave son of India. 

Despite the unresolved nature of his demise, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja's legacy as a national hero endures. His family continued to receive the nation's utmost respect and support, with Ahuja being posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra, one of India's highest gallantry honours, on August 15, 1999. As India commemorates his sacrifice, Ahuja's memory serves as a source of inspiration for future generations, a reminder of the selfless dedication and valour exhibited by those who serve the nation. 

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Published May 27th, 2024 at 12:31 IST