In the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, the Indian military aimed to seize vital territory up to the Ichogil Canal while aiming to defeat the Pakistani forces decisively.
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The Ichogil Canal, constructed in the 1950s, posed a significant hindrance, with Indian soldiers continually under artillery fire behind the canal. The Pakistani artillery positions were causing havoc on the Indian Army, compelling them to remain low and impeding their attempts to cross the Ichhogil Canal.
In response, the Indian Army sought assistance from the Indian Air Force to neutralize these artillery positions. Consequently, the IAF was entrusted with the mission to eliminate one of these targets in South Pakistan.
On September 10, 1965, Flying Officer Dara Phiroze Chinoy, a 20-year-old Parsi hailing from Mumbai, took flight in a French-manufactured Dassault Mystere fighter bomber from the Adampur air base in Punjab.
Despite being a newcomer to the service, having received his commission just two years prior, Flying Officer Chinoy’s unit was tasked to target a Pakistani artillery position just across the border in Pakistani Punjab.
Brimming with eagerness to charge into battle alongside his squadron companions, the young Flying Officer didn’t take a moment to have a hasty meal or even a sip of water. This oversight nearly proved fatal in the subsequent critical hours.
Shortly after commencing the mission to target the Pakistani positions, as he ascended to initiate the assault on the gun position, he experienced a forceful impact at the base of his aircraft. In the dire situation, his fighter jet was engulfed in flames.
He transmitted a distressing message: “I am hit.” The cockpit filled with thick smoke and escalating heat in seconds, rendering the aircraft’s instrument panel and the outside world invisible.
Amidst the billowing smoke, he discerned the grim reality — the engine had succumbed, and smoke and flames were relentlessly infiltrating the cockpit from the rear.
Chinoy’s aircraft was equipped with a 2×68 mm rocket pod, and its fuel tank was at three-quarters capacity.
In this precarious scenario, the outcome would be fatal if his plane descended below 2,000 feet. Quickly, Dara Chinoy initiated the ejection sequence and hit the ejection button.
In his book ‘Escape from Pakistan: A War Heroes Chronicle,’ Chinoy vividly recounted, “When I was coming down, I could hear the sound of rifle bullets. In between, anti-aircraft artillery shells were also passing beside me. Several bullets pierced my parachute. Then I thought they were trying to target me.”
“Luckily, I fell into a sugarcane field. Sugarcane was not harvested, so I got a chance to hide. As soon as I fell, I could hear the screams and abuses of Pakistani soldiers and the sound of automatic gunshots,” he added.
How Did Chinoy Escape To India?
Chinoy ran through a sugarcane field in a zigzag pattern like a deer, driven by fear that made him even faster. Instead of going east, where Pakistani soldiers might expect him to head toward the Indian border, he went west.
As time passed, the noise of vehicles and Pakistani soldiers chasing him faded away. He kept creeping, changing direction to the north after a while. He ran and rested for about two hours in sugarcane fields.
In a crucial moment, Chinoy knew staying still was his best chance. He prayed for darkness and used it to bury his map, radar sheets, and anything that could help the enemy.
He also covered his face with mud. His G suit was soaked in sweat and dirt, blending in with the surroundings and increasing his chances of not being caught.
After a brief rest, Chinoy cautiously set out toward the east under the cover of the deepening night. He navigated the tall grass and sugarcane fields, purposely avoiding villages and people. Being spotted by even one person or a dog could trigger an alarm.
Chinoy was acutely aware that since his departure that morning, he had only consumed a cup of tea and had gone without water for the past twenty hours. Thirst and exhaustion were beginning to slow down his movements. The scorching heat, anxiety, and constant running had severely dehydrated him.
He knew that if fatigue overcame him and he ended up in the hands of the Pakistanis, the treatment could be brutal. There was a real risk of being shot on the spot.
Despite this, he pressed on, overcoming the fear and crossing a waist-deep water canal, followed by the swift-flowing Ichchogil canal.
Upon reaching the Amritsar-Batala road, Chinoy felt he had successfully crossed the India-Pakistan border. Spotting a well near a village, he hurried towards it, drawing up a bucket of water.
His confidence was rekindled after quenching his thirst and refreshing himself by pouring the water over his head. He then proceeded to walk south along the Amritsar-Batala road. Intentionally steering clear of the main road, dawn approached, and Chinoy soon heard voices conversing in Tamil.
Chinoy gathered his courage and shouted boldly, “Who’s there?” Startled by his disheveled appearance, covered in dirt and mud, one soldier pointed a rifle at him, commanding, “Raise your hands.” Chinoy complied, dropping to his knees and raising his hands in surrender.
Indian soldiers began interrogating Chinoy, expressing disbelief about him being an Indian Air Force pilot. Chinoy requested them to contact his officer for confirmation.
Chinoy was instructed to sit in the back seat of the jeep, and inadvertently, an Indian soldier accidentally triggered his rifle, with the bullet narrowly missing Chinoy. This incident was louder than a subsequent reprimand from the subedar major.
Later, Chinoy was brought to a captain who demanded to see their identity card. Chinoy explained that he didn’t carry an identity card during missions.
Dara Firoz Chinoy was questioned about his unit and commander. He revealed his station commander’s name, Group Captain Jock Lloyd. Further inquiries led to a revelation about another officer in his team.
This piqued the curiosity of the captain interrogating him, who turned out to be the cousin of the mentioned officer. Recognizing the connection, the captain greeted Chinoy warmly, offering him breakfast and coffee.
The Indian Army officer facilitated Chinoy’s transport to the Air Force Center in Amritsar after Chinoy had a refreshing bath.
Exhausted, Chinoy fell asleep in the jeep and woke as they entered the center’s gate. Unexpectedly, four Pakistani Sabre jets attacked the center’s radar unit, prompting Chinoy and others to seek refuge in a bunker to avoid the bombs.
Following these harrowing experiences, Chinoy was driven by the station commander to the Air Force base in Adampur. His return to the base surprised and delighted his colleagues. The next day, he underwent a medical examination and was declared fit to resume flying duties.
On September 23, a ceasefire was declared between India and Pakistan, but Chinoy’s return to India was kept secret.
Three months after the war concluded, on January 1, 1966, then Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh, awarded Flying Officer Chinoy the Vishisht Seva Medal for his remarkable escape from Pakistan and safe return to India.
Chinoy, who eventually retired as a Group Captain, demonstrated incredible resilience by surviving life-threatening situations on three separate occasions over fifty years.
Even before his 1965 ordeal, as a trainee pilot in 1964, he ejected from an Ouragan fighter over the Brahmaputra river due to a severe loss of control caused by a malfunctioning electric trimmer — a critical aircraft control system.
In 1987, Chinoy faced another life-threatening situation when he had to eject from a MiG-21 after a bird strike severely affected his jet’s functionality. Despite these close encounters with death, his passion for aviation remained unwavering.
After retiring from the Air Force, Dara Chinoy continued his love for flying as a civilian pilot. He accumulated extensive flight hours, piloting corporate aircraft for prestigious entities like the Tatas and the Ambanis.