Service No : 23546 F(P)
Last Rank : Pilot Officer
Unit : 130 HU AF
Arm/Regt : Air Force
Operation : Op Meghdoot
Awards : Shaurya Chakra
Martyrdom : August 26, 1996
Pilot Officer Vaibhav Bhagwat was commissioned into the Indian Air Force on 17 June 1995 in the flying stream of the IAF and got trained as a helicopter pilot as part of 155th Pilots' course. After completing his flying training, Plt Offr Vaibhav Bhagwat got posted to 130 HU as his first assignment.
During the month of Aug 1996, Plt Offr Vaibhav Bhagwat was on detachment in a forward area to carry out air maintenance operations in OP Meghdoot area. During this period enemy had redeployed the forces in Southern glacier area and had established new bunkers at commanding positions directly threatening Indian Army Posts. The accessibility to the Army posts had also become extremely difficult since helicopter routes to the posts were under the enemy’s constant watch and threat. However undeterred the IAF detachment was constantly engaged in the supply missions to the AGPL(Actual Ground Position Line) on Saltoro ridge in south west of Siachen glacier.
Op Meghdoot: 26 Aug 1996
During 1996, Plt Offr Vaibhav Bhagwat was serving with 130 HU AF based at Jammu. 130 Helicopter Unit known as "THE CONDORS" was formed on 15 February 1988 at Jammu with Wing Commander Harbans Singh Bath as its first commanding officer. The Primary role of the Unit since its inception had been of Air Support towards Op Meghdoot. However, in addition, it had been called upon to undertake varying tasks viz. SHBO, Flood and Relief & causality evacuation. During Aug 1996, the detachment of 130 HU AF was tasked to carry out the air maintenance sorties for the Army posts deployed on south west of Siachen glacier. Plt Offr Vaibhav Bhagwat as a co-pilot of the aircraft was assigned to carry out such air drop missions on 26 Aug 1996. The other crew members included Flt Lt Jain as captain, Sgt R Murigappa as flight gunner and Sgt Krishna C Jha as flight engineer.
The missions involved dropping diverse load for the posts passing through the area dominated by the enemy posts with anti aircraft batteries. Plt Offr Vaibhav Bhagwat and Flt Lt Jain were completely aware of the risk involved, but they undertook the challenging task bravely and unflinchingly. Before the fateful sortie, two such missions were carried out successfully in spite of enemy’s interference. However during the third sortie after the load was dropped his helicopter was engaged by the enemy ground fire. The helicopter being flown by Plt Offr Vaibhav Bhagwat and Flt Lt Sandeep Jain took a direct hit and crashed in the icy mountains. Plt Offr Vaibhav Bhagwat, Flt Lt Sandeep Jain, and other crew members Sgt R Murigappa and Sgt Krishna C Jha could not survive the crash and laid down their lives in the line of their duty.
Plt Offr Vaibhav Bhagwat showed exemplary courage and dedication by undertaking the challenging task in the face of known enemy threat and extremely hostile weather conditions. Plt Offr Vaibhav Bhagwat was a brave soldier and competent air warrior who laid down his life in the line of his duty. Plt Offr Vaibhav Bhagwat was given the nation’s third highest gallantry award during peacetime ” Shaurya Chakra” for his bravery and supreme sacrifice.
The citation for the Shaurya Chakra awarded to him reads:
Pilot Officer Vaibhav Bhagwat was co-pilot for crucial air-maintenance sorties in Op-Meghdoot area during the month of Aug 1996 when the enemy had redeployed forces threatening outposts in the area. On 26 Aug 96, a special sortie was undertaken in Mi-17 Helicopter to Hoshiyar post on the Southern Glacier. The post was threatened by enemy fire but air maintenance was planned to drop essential supplies to maintain our troops. After the load was dropped, the helicopter was engaged by enemy ground fire and shot down killing all the occupants.
Pilot Officer Vaibhav Bhagwat displayed exhibiting bravery, courage, and devotion to his duty of the highest order and laid down his life for the country in the true tradition of the Indian Air Force.