MCI (P) 135/03/2018
SINGAPORE, WEEKEND OF FRIDAY,
DECEMBER 7, 2018
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Actress Priyanka Chopra high on happiness after fairytale wedding
REPORT ON PAGE 13
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Authorities drain lake after
HIV-positive woman drowns in it
The residents of Morab, in Karnataka
state, have refused to drink water from
their village lake after an HIV-positive
woman committed suicide by jumping
into it a week ago.
Unable to convince them, authorities
are now draining the water from the
36-acre lake which they hope to refill
with water from the Malaprabha canal.
The lake is a key source of drinking wa-
ter for more than 1,000 people who live
in the drought-affected region and earn
their livelihoods by farming.
YouTube granny chef dies at 107
One of the world’s oldest YouTubers,
107-year-old Mastanamma from the
state of Andhra Pradesh, died on
She shot to fame on the Internet for
her cooking, which consisted of local and
unusual dishes made from scratch.
Her YouTube channel Country Foods,
launched in 2016, has more than a mil-
lion subscribers with hundreds of cook-
ing videos, including one on her iconic
India sweeps list of world’s
When it comes to the top 10 cities for eco-
nomic growth, India is set to dominate
over the next two decades, according to
Surat, a diamond processing and trad-
ing centre in the state of Gujarat, will see
the fastest expansion through 2035, aver-
aging more than 9 per cent.
All the 10 fastest over that period will
be in India: The others being Agra, Ben-
galuru, Hyderabad, Nagpur, Tiruppur,
Rajkot, Tiruchirappalli, Chennai and Vi-
South Indian movies hog most spots
in top 10 Twitter hashtags in India
Six south Indian movies are in the list of
the top 10 Twitter hashtags in India this
year, with Vijay’s recent release #Sarkar
grabbing the top spot.
Ajith’s new Tamil film #Viswaasam is at
No. 2, followed by Mahesh Babu’s April re-
lease #Bharat Anne Nenu at No. 5.
Jr NTR’s #Aravinda Sametha, which
saw a massive box-office collection of over
Rs 100 crore in three days worldwide, is at
No. 8 and Ram Charan Teja’s #Rangastha-
lam, a period drama set in rural Andhra, at
Rajinikanth’s Kaala is at No. 10.
Bollywood’s most celebrated couple
#Deepveer bagged the seventh position,
while #Karnataka elections, #Kerala
floods and #Justice for Asifa were third,
fourth and sixth respectively.
December 7, 2018
V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
The rescue of Ms Sajitha Jabeel was the
most challenging assignment Comman-
der Vijay Varma, an Indian Navy heli-
copter pilot, has carried out during 18
years of flying.
There were a lot of factors involved:
Bad weather with low clouds and gusting
winds, occasional rain, she was in labour
and in a precarious condition with her wa-
ter bag having burst and she was in a heav-
ily-crowded mosque in a badly flood-af-
The topography of the area around
the mosque in Chengamanadu, near
Aluva in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, con-
sisted of tall coconut trees and wires and
cables running along or above the
rooftops. The minarets of the mosque
and several palm trees had to be circum-
vented to get into position to lift her up.
“There was a tin roof over the area
that we picked her up from. I had to make
sure that there was no swing in the cable.
If one started, then she would have been
in danger due to the surrounding tin
sheets and obstructions. She had to be
picked up absolutely vertical,” Cdr
Varma told tabla!
He also had to do multiple winching
operations to get her on board. He low-
ered a flight diver and then a doctor to as-
sess her condition and then he got the
doctor back up to receive Ms Sajitha.
Then Ms Sajitha herself was winched up
“as gently and smoothly as possible with-
out any jerks”.
Finally, the diver was hoisted back up
and the helicopter took Ms Sajitha to the
Indian Navy’s hospital Sanjivani in
nearby Kochi where she delivered a boy.
“The 25 minutes when I had to main-
tain an accurate and steady hover was an-
other challenge,” said Cdr Varma. “ Sit-
ting in the cockpit I couldn’t see directly
below me. So, my winch operator was
the one who kept relaying positional in-
formation to me. Teamwork is the key in
any rescue operation. My team made me
proud. I couldn’t have evacuated Sajitha
to safety without them.”
The Indian Navy mounted a massive
search and rescue operation during the
floods that hit most parts of Kerala this
August. According to India’s defence
ministry, the navy rescued 17,000 peo-
ple who were affected by the massive
Cdr Varma, 42, who got commis-
sioned into the Indian Navy in 1998 and
started flying helicopters in 2000, had
just returned from a rescue mission on
Aug 17 when he got an SOS about Ms
Sajitha’s condition. He tracked her down
with the help of Google Maps to an area
where the roads were submerged.
“Me and my team rescued more than
80 people,” said Cdr Varma. “We fly the
Chetak (an Indian variant of the Aerospa-
tiale Alouette III) helicopter and to-
gether are called God’s Own Angels. We
went where the bigger choppers could
not go. But the Chetak being a small heli-
copter we could rescue only a maximum
three people at a time.
“It was relentless flying for days from
sunrise till sunset. We flew more than
100 missions which included dropping re-
Cdr Varma and Captain P. Rajkumar,
another Indian Navy helicopter pilot, led
the rescue of about 195 people during
Kerala’s worst floods in a century.
For their efforts, the duo, along with
two other men of courage and two disas-
ter relief organisations, were honoured
with The Straits Times Asian of the Year
2018 award last week.
“We were of course tense during the
missions but it is all about managing risks
and taking swift decisions,” said Cdr
Varma. “The plight of the people was har-
rowing. I felt proud of the way Keralites
came together in the time of crisis. The
dignity of the survivors and the zeal of
the rescuers, the youth, the officials and
administration was indeed inspiring and
made me feel proud as a Malayali .”
Later, in a heartwarming gesture, peo-
ple in Ms Sajitha’s locality painted a
thank you note on a rooftop to express
their gratitude to Cdr Varma.
“I’m happy to receive The Straits
Times award. But one doesn’t go about
doing this job looking for gratitude,” said
Cdr Varma. “We do it because it’s our
duty. But seeing the message on the
rooftop was very heartening. It really
touched all our hearts. It makes the sacri-
fices we make worthwhile.”
On the same day Ms Sajitha was res-
cued, Capt Rajkumar flew a difficult mis-
sion in a Sea King helicopter.
For 45 minutes, he hovered over two
different rooftops to winch up 26 people
on to a helicopter which had seating for
only three passengers.
“I was flying the weapons version of
the Sea King. This helicopter is not meant
to carry passengers,” Capt Rajkumar, 54,
told tabla! “I rescued 15 people from a
rooftop and then saw another group wav-
ing a red flag to us from another rooftop. I
rescued them too. I made them sit on the
floor and wherever there was space in the
helicopter and took them to safety along
with my three crew members.”
In another daring rescue, Capt Rajku-
mar, who joined the Indian Navy in 1987
as a pilot officer, winched up a paraplegic
woman in her wheelchair through a nar-
row space in the roof of a house. The oper-
ation on Aug 20 took 25 minutes.
“This was very difficult to do because
the roof was two layered,” he said. “And
it had jagged edges. If the helicopter’s ro-
tor tip had touched any of these obstruc-
tions, it would have been a disaster.”
But then Capt Rajkumar is known for
his daredevilry. He received the Nao
Sena Medal (given by the Indian Navy
for gallantry) for flying in near-blind con-
ditions in Antartica. He also rescued a
fisherman in pitch-black conditions in
the night during Cyclone Ockhi which
devastated parts of India last year.
For that act, he received the Shaurya
Chakra – an Indian military decoration
awarded for valour and courageous ac-
tion – on Aug 15.
“It was the first time an Indian Navy pi-
lot successfully operated in such condi-
tions,” said Capt Rajkumar. “During the
Kerala floods, me and my team flew con-
tinuously for five days to rescue 114 peo-
ple. In my 31 years of service, we have
mounted difficult missions in Antartica
and during cyclones, floods and tsunami.
“It was a very emotional moment for
me being a Malayali to witness so much
destruction and despair in my own state.
I consider myself privileged and proud to
have got the opportunity to help people
in distress. I am extremely humbled and
honoured The Straits Times has recog-
nised my service.”
Commander Vijay Varma and his team
rescued more than 80 people during the
massive floods that affected Kerala in
August this year.
Captain P. Rajkumar has mounted difficult
rescue acts during his 31 years of service
with the Indian Navy in Antartica and
during floods, cyclones and tsunami.
Pregnant Sabitha Jabeel being winched up and the thank you message for Commander Vijay Varma; (right) Captain P. Rajkumar rescuing a group of people .
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