Service No : 8014 AE(M)
Last Rank : Squadron Leader
Arm/Regt : Indian Air Force
Martyrdom : November 4, 1977
Sqn Ldr Veera Venkata Satyanarayanamurty Sunkar was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the IAF on 07 Nov 1963. He joined the technical branch of the IAF and got trained as an Aeronautical Engineer in Mechanical stream as part of the 27 DEO course. Thereafter he served in varous Air Force bases and gained experience in myriad technical activities associated with the IAF assets. Subsequently he got trained as a flight engineer and became a part of the air crew. By 1977, he had put in around 14 years of service and had been promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader.
Air Transport Operation: 04 Nov 1977
During Nov 1977, Sqn Ldr VVS Sunkar was serving with the Air Headquarters Communication Squadron of the IAF. The Squadron was formed on 01 Nov 1947 and was based at Air Force Station Palam since its inception. The primary role of the Squadron was to convey VVIPs/VIPs of India and visiting foreign heads of state and Governments. On 04 Nov 1977, the Prime Minister of India, Shri Morarji Desai was scheduled to visit the North Eastern States of India, on an official tour. He was to fly from Delhi to Jorhat (Assam), and for this journey, an aircraft TU-124 of the Indian Air Force HQ Communications Squadron was to ferry the PM and his entourage to Jorhat and return to Delhi. Accompanying the PM was his son Shri Kantibhai Desai, Shri John Lobo(Chief of the Intelligence Bureau) and Shri PK Thungon, the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh. Sqn Ldr VVS Sunkar was selected to undertake that operation as Flight Engineer of the Russian-made TU-124 jet named Pushpak (flowered chariot), a twin-engine passenger aircraft, specifically used for VIP movement.
The other Crew members included Wg Cdr Clarence Joseph D'Lima (Pilot), Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac (co-pilot), Wg Cdr Joginder Singh (Navigator), Flt Lt OP Arora (Flight Signaler), Flt Lt PK Raveendran (Under Trainee Flight Engineer), and three other non-commissioned officers on board. The Air HQ Comm Sqn flight took off from Palam Airport Delhi, at 5 pm on 04 Nov 1977. Upon reaching Bagdogra, the pilots – Wg Cdr CJ D’Lima and Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac committed to proceed to Jorhat. The airport was enveloped in darkness and was under a cloud cover. But they had with them a very competent Navigator – Wg Cdr Joginder Singh, who successfully directed the pilots to Jorhat airport. The TU-124 aircraft was equipped with an Instrument Landing System, but the necessary ground equivalent system was not available at Jorhat. In such a situation, the navigator on board had to use his skills and knowledge, along with information like speed, heading, etc. and some instruments which were basically direction finders, to direct the aircraft to the airfield. When they descended into Jorhat (about 100 minutes after taking off from Delhi) and broke through the cloud cover, the pilot could see the runway ahead. But Wg Cdr D’Lima and Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac realized that the aircraft was positioned slightly ‘off’ the runway, slightly high and too near the runway.
Wg Cdr D’Lima and Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac decided to ‘go around’ which meant abort landing, fly over the runway, gain height, turn back and come in for fresh approach for landing, this time calculating more precisely the distance, direction and alignment of the aircraft with the runway. On the 2nd attempt meters from touchdown, the landing gear grazed a tree top damaging the nose landing gear. Wg Cdr D’Lima and Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac felt that it was dangerous to risk the life of the PM & passengers by attempting to land on the hard surface of the runway with a damaged nose wheel and decided on a crash landing in a soft wet paddy field 25 kms from the Johrat Airbase. As a result, the cockpit took the maximum impact instead of the passenger cabin. A belly landing would have risked an explosion which would have put both crew and passengers in danger. The daredevil action of Wg Cdr D’Lima and Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac and their crew averted what could have been the worst VVIP disaster in Indian History. The nose of the aircraft got ripped apart, especially from below and everything from the bottom part of the cockpit fell open. The first to be thrown out of the aircraft was Wg Cdr D’Lima, who fell about 50 meters from the tree, followed by other crew members – all fell in a heap. All the crew perished even before the flight halted, but PM Shri Morarji and others in the passenger cabin survived. Besides Sqn Ldr VVS Sunkar, the other air warriors who made the supreme sacrifice included Wg Cdr CJ D'Lima, Wg Cdr Joginder Singh, Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac and Flt Lt O P Arora.
Sqn Ldr Veera Venkata Satyanarayanamurty Sunkar was a committed soldier and gallant air warrior who laid down his life in the line of his duty.