Three years ago, squadron leader P K Bundela shot down a Pakistani Atlantique surveillance plane when it crossed into the Indian air space in Gujarat. But today, he is fighting for his own life after ejecting from a MiG-21.
Despite two major surgeries, the 32-year-old fighter pilot is paralysed neck down. Doctors at the Military Command hospital in Pune say that the only reason Bundela is still alive is because he simply refuses to give up.
"There is always hope. Even now he is in a state of spinal shock. We can give a period of up to two to three years in which he can improve. But these things take time," said Colonel A K Dubey, the doctor treating Squadron leader Bundela.
Bundela became a national hero when on August 10, 1999 he became the only IAF pilot to have shot down a Pakistani aircraft since the 1971 war.
His last flight as a fighter pilot was on April 4 this year -- ironically on the same variant of the MiG he flew in 1999. But this time the engine of the MiG-21 stalled while he was flying at a supersonic speed.
The ejection process too was not clean and he struck a part of the cockpit as he exited the aircraft, which resulted in serious spinal cord injuries.
Bundela's crash and a subsequent MiG-21 crash in Jallandhar in May in which seven people were killed on the ground prompted the Air Force to temporarily halt training operations.
All these MiGs have since been cleared for full service. Squadron leader P K Bundela may have lived, but more than 40 trained and qualified fighter pilots have been killed in the last decade while flying MiG-21s.
However, the top brass of the Air Force refuses to accept the aircraft is outdated, poorly manufactured and prone to disaster.
Published in NDTV