Service No : 17143-R F(P)
Date of Birth : April 28, 1962
Place of birth : Dehradun (U'khand)
Last Rank : Squadron Leader
Unit : 152 HU
Arm/Regt : Indian Air Force
Operation : Op Vijay
Awards : Vayu Sena Medal
Martyrdom : May 28, 1999
Sqn Ldr Rajiv Pundir was born on 28 April 1962 in Dehradun. After completing his schooling from St. Joseph’s Academy. he joined NDA(National Defence Academy) in June 1979 and passed out on 10 June 1982 as part of the 62nd NDA Course. Later he went to the Air Force Academy and was commissioned into the IAF on 29th May 1983 at the age of 21 years. He was commissioned in the flying branch of the IAF and got trained as a helicopter pilot as part of 131 Pilots' course. Sqn Ldr Pundir was an all round officer, and besides being a keen sportsman he had a passion for music and was an accomplished singer. In an effort to gain overall knowledge, he had undergone three training courses from 1992-94 and was awarded an ‘A’ grade in all three courses. Sqn Ldr Pundir also served as an instructor at the College of Military Engineering Pune for a period of three years.
Sqn Ldr Pundir was a keen flier right from the beginning and had over 3000 hours of operational flying to his credit. He had flown almost all types of helicopters available in the IAF inventory. He was experienced on, among other aircraft, the heavy lift Mi-26 Helicopter besides having 2500 hours on the Mi-8 and Chetak/Cheetah helicopters. During his tenure in the 109 Helicopter Unit, Sqn Ldr Pundir actively participated in Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. He was also awarded the CAS commendation for his dedication to duty and professionalism in 1988.
Drass Air Operation (Kargil War) : 28 May 1999
During 1999, Sqn Ldr Rajiv Pundir was serving with No 152 squadron Helicopter Unit, since 12th May 1998. By May 1999, a large-scale planned infiltration by militants backed by the Pakistan army, had been detected in Uri, Batallik, and Drass sectors, and Indian Armed Forces were ordered to clear the areas of the intruders. Along with the operations by the Army, IAF also undertook air operations to meet the objective. One such operation was undertaken by 152 Squadron in the Drass sector. On May 28, Sqn Ldr Pundir was flying as a co-pilot of a Mi-17 helicopter (piloted by Flt Lt S Muhilan) during an attack mission against ground positions strongly held by Pakistani infiltrators in the Drass sector. The enemy forces were well entrenched and were equipped with anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles to take on possible air attacks. The Mi-17 helicopter repeatedly carried out attacks in the face of fierce enemy opposition in the form of ground fire and missiles.
Unfortunately in one of the retaliatory actions by the enemy forces his helicopter got hit by the U.S made Stinger SAM(surface-to-air missile). Since the helicopter took a direct hit, the damage caused was massive and the aircrew had no time to take any emergency maneuvers. The helicopter crashed and the valiant air crew comprising Sqn Ldr Rajiv Pundir, Flt Lt S Muhilan, Sgt Raj Kishor Sahu and Sergeant PVNR Prasad were martyred. Sqn Ldr Pundir’s courageous action, unmindful of the danger to his personal safety typified the courage of the IAF’s helicopter pilots, who have time and again demonstrated such qualities during various air operations. Sqn Ldr Rajiv Pundir was a gallant air warrior and a committed soldier, who laid down his life in the service of the nation.
Sqn Ldr Rajiv Pundir is survived by his wife Smt Sharmila Pundir, daughter Bhavya and son Karan.
The citation for the Vayu Sena Medal awarded to him reads:
Squadron Leader Rajiv Pundir (17143-R) Flying (Pilot) was on the posted strength of a Mi-17 Helicopter Unit since 12 May 98.
On 28 May 99, Sqn Ldr Pundir was tasked to fly a live strike against enemy positions at point 5140, located at an inhospitable altitude of 5.1 Kms. While undertaking the mission, Sqn Ldr Pundir was fully aware that the area was infested with missiles and that the only counter measure against the missile was not fitted on his helicopter. Realising the importance of the mission, Sqn Ldr Pundir boldly accepted the challenge and with total disregard to personal safety went ahead with the strike. Having successfully pressed home the attack, during the break away, Sqn Ldr Pundir's helicopter was hit by a Stinger missile. Despite his best efforts to assist control the damaged helicopter it crashed killing Sqn Ldr Pundir and all the crew members.
Displaying a very high level of professional competence and courage, Sqn Ldr Pundir had already undertaken two strike missions in the treacherous terrain of the Dras sub sector. These missions achieved astounding success and were the key to subsequent easy recapture by the ground forces. In his action, Sqn Ldr Pundir displayed exceptional courage and acted in keeping with the best traditions of the Indian Air Force.
For this act of exceptional courage the Hon'ble President is pleased to award 'Vayu Sena Medal' to Sqn Ldr Rajiv Pundir, Posthumous.
Tribute by his wife Smt Sharmil Pundir :
Life & Ties – Not dead until forgotten
(by Sharmila Pundir, Hindustan Times 1/6/2001)
Leaving footprints on the sand of time two lonely and never-ending years have passed in a haze of grief and bewilderment. Two years since a brave son of the Motherland laid down his life defending the borders of his country. As I look back over these two years I feel a curious mixture of emotions, a pain that time will never erase but also pride, because it requires a special type of courage to be able to fly into enemy space knowing you may never come back. I am the wife of such a special man, Sqr. Leader Rajiv Pundir. As the month of May approached there used to be a general atmosphere of happiness at home. The reason being very distinct. This was the month for us to relax after a year’s hard work. Rajiv took his annual leave around this time. But who knew that this very month for which we used to wait throughout the year would change our lives entirely. Each incident of that month two years ago is fresh in my mind. My husband had gone on temporary duty to Srinagar for 15 days. This was in April. His birthday fell on April 27, and he would generally forget all about it. But this time he did not, and we all wished him when he called us up from there. Rajiv and his crew were supposed to return on May 3, 1999. But as usual due to some reason they got delayed and landed on May 4. I, like any other wife, sighed with relief, and hoped for an interregnum of peace for a month or so. We started doing our packing and arranging things at home as we were to proceed on a long leave. On May 21 we all went out shopping for relatives back home. Rajiv had to go on duty again the next day for two or three days, as the Vice President of India was to visit Musooriee. He returned on May 24, and reached home at about four in the evening. We had a late lunch, and I told him how I had been packing while he had been away, so that he needn’t bother about it. As we were resting in the evening there was a siren for General Recall. Rajiv quickly changed into his uniform and left. It was night when he finally called me up, and – to my utter shock – asked me to pack his suitcase as he was supposed to leave for Srinagar immediately. I just could not understand what was so urgent. He came home at about 10.00 pm. We had a late dinner that night. He did not reveal anything about his mission, just saying that some load had to be dropped. He knew that were he to tell me the truth I would not have been able to take it. Just after an hour’s sleep he got ready to leave. Take off time was 5 am, May 25. Our daughter, who would be generally sleeping at this time, came out running to say bye to papa. Our last goodbye. On reaching Srinagar, he called us up to inquire about our welfare, and told me to proceed to Dehradun, our hometown. The idea was repugnant to me, as I had never gone without him anywhere, and I told him so. That was to be the last time we spoke. Like a bolt from the blue came the evening news bulletin, with its shattering announcement of the declaration of war. The blood froze in my veins: this is the news every service wife dreads. The night was spent in frozen fear, without a wink of sleep. On the morning of May 28 came the mechanical and cold announcement: an MI17 helicopter of the IAF had been shot down. The previous day, IAF had lost two MiG aircraft. And the very next day, as a part of new strategy, the IAF sent in four MI-17 helicopters in Kargil sector. One of the four was brought down by a Stinger missile fired by the intruders. According to eyewitnesses, even when the chopper was coming down the IAF personnel inside it continued to fire at the intruders. After few seconds the helicopter crashed – and also my happy world. The face of the newsreader still haunts me in my dreams. The next few hours passed as if an eternity: kind friends and neighbours kept trying to convince me that it couldn’t be my husband’s chopper that had been brought down. But this was soon proved wrong: my happy world collapsed like a house of cards around me, and I was trapped in a void of unimaginable grief.
May 29: Today was Homecoming day. The prodigal son who did not think twice while staking his life for his motherland, was coming home. A short halt on his onward journey from where no traveller returns. When the coffin draped in the Indian tricolour and decked with flowers came down there was more anguish in Bharat mata’s eyes than grief. This is how the brave sleep. The last rites were performed with full military honours. When the last post “O soldier, your work is done”, sounded I choked. I often relate Rajiv with the Almighty. Many a times I question myself as to who is god. Neither you nor I have seen him. We only believe that he is one who loves us, cares for us, who would listen to our prayers in whom we have faith and respect. My children and I have firm faith in him, we know he loves and cares for us, no matter where he is. Life goes on, but it has become very suffocating and seems to be devoid of colour or purpose. The wound is raw; it will take a long time to adjust to being alone. No one to laugh, cry or worry with. Sometimes I wonder at the strange ways of god, why he deals us such cruel blows. But then I realise no one can know what fate holds in store for each of us and how slender are the relationships that binds us. My memories of happy times continue to haunt me, the appearance of mango blossoms was a reminder that it was vacation time, time to go home on annual leave with the children, to my parents’ and in-laws’. Now, when I see the trees in full bloom it only serves as a poignant reminder of those days. Rajiv did his duty, he did not defer it. Now I have to do my duty towards my family and my country. My life now revolves around my children and bringing them up as he would have wanted to. I must never let them feel his absence and also work hard to bring them up with the right values and principles. For this I have to be both father and mother to my children and provide them with emotional and mental support. I also want to do something for those children who lost their father while defending the borders of this country. For this purpose I formed a small trust called the Kargil Foundation. As a humble beginning, the educational expenses of two children would be borne by this trust. I want to cherish the memory of my husband through the activities of this foundation. Last year the Government organised an exhibition to mark the first anniversary of the Kargil war. A small sentence written on a board on that occasion made a big impact on me: “A man is not dead until he is forgotten.”