Captain Sathe: Air Force veteran who saved hundreds of lives

Captain DV Sathe along with his co-pilot and 16 passengers lost their lives when the Air India Express Boeing 737 from Dubai to Kozhikode (Calicut) overshot the runway at Karipur airport on Friday.

The catastrophic crash of Air India’s Vande Bharat Rescue Mission Flight IX-1344 that took place at the Kozhikode airport on Friday night has shook the nation. Captain Dipak Vasant Sathe, a former decorated IAF Wing Commander, was in command of the ill-fated Air India Express Flight IX-1344. Before sacrificing his life, Captain Sathe with his quick thinking saved many lives as without panic, when disaster loomed due to alleged landing gear failure, he did what best he could.

A former test pilot with the Indian Air Force (IAF), Captain DV Sathe was an experienced aerial operator. He had flown the Airbus 310 for Air India before moving to Air India Express to fly a Boeing 737. Captain Sathe was also the recipient of a Sword of Honour at the Air Force Academy (AFA).

As per the records, Captain Sathe attempted to land the aircraft several times. Due to incessant rains, he steered the aircraft around the airport twice before managing to touch down, but it skidded off the runway due to hydroplaning — when a layer of water forms on the surface, reducing friction with the brakes of a vehicle. The aircraft then nosedived into a valley 35 feet below, and split into two. Before that, he turned off the engine saving the lives of his passengers and the cabin crew. Union minister V Muraleedharan who visited Kozhikode on Saturday said the death toll in the accident could have been higher had the pilot not switched off the engine in time. In doing so, he said, the pilot prevented the fuel tank of the aircraft from going up in flames.

In a heartfelt post on Facebook, National Highways Authority of India’s financial advisor Nilesh Sathe said that his cousin Dipak Sathe, the pilot of the Air India Express plane crash at Kozhikode airport on Friday night, was proud of repatriating Indians stuck in foreign countries amid the covid-19 related lockdown. “He called me just a week before and was jovial, as always. When I asked him about the ‘Vande Bharat’ Mission, he was proud of bringing back our countrymen from Arab countries,” Nilesh Sathe said.

Nilesh Sathe said that Dipak had once miraculously survived an air crash in the 1990’s when he was an Indian Air Force pilot. “He survived an air crash in early nineties when he was in Airforce. He was hospitalised for 6 months for multiple skull injuries and nobody thought that he will fly again. But his strong will power and love for flying made him clear the test again. It was a miracle,” Nilesh Sathe said in his post.

An alumnus of the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune, Captain Sathe stood first in the 58th course of Pune NDA from Juliet Squadron. He passed out from AFA with the ‘Sword of Honour’ in 1981. Apart from being an accomplished fighter pilot and a HAL test pilot, he was also an exceptional squash player. A pilot with 36 years of flying experience, he leaves behind his wife and two sons, while his father Colonel Vasant Sathe stays in Nagpur with his wife. His brother, Vikas Sathe, was also an Army officer who lost his life while serving in Jammu region.

The Boeing 737 aircraft was on a Dubai-Kozhikode flight carrying 190 passengers who were being repatriated from Dubai under the Vande Bharat Mission.

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