Ajit Ramanathan- Batch of 1987
Wing Commander (Retired) Ajit Ramanathan (Batch of 87) , is the only Air Force officer in history to receive the Sena Medal for gallantry.
A product of the National Defence Academy in Khadakwasla, to which he secured admission simultaneous to his passing out from AFBBS, he was inducted into the Indian Air Force as a helicopter pilot in June ’91.
At school, Ajit was a bright student who studied science in higher secondary and was the main ‘spiker’ for the volleyball team which won the zonal inter-school competitions three years in a row – in the sub-junior, junior and senior age-groups (1985-87).
Like all air force officers, he was posted in different locations across India including in tricky sectors of the North East and Siachen as part of the 153 Helicopter unit.
Now a little about his Sena Medal and why it is unique.
This gallantry award is given for valour to army officers but a rare departure was made in Ajit’s case for showing exemplary courage in rescuing an injured army officer cornered by militants in Kashmir.
On the afternoon of 1 July 2004, then Squadron Leader Ajit Ramanathan was on a check sortie involving helipad operations in Jammu and Kashmir. While returning, he received a radio transmission from an Army aviation helicopter, requesting for a casualty evacuation of the Commanding Officer of 16 Maratha Li who had been seriously wounded during an encounter with militants in Sekhlu.
Earlier rescue attempts by army helicopters had been unsuccessful but Ajit decided to turn back for his own mission despite deteriorating weather and limited fuel. Ajit could not penetrate the weather the first time, but rather than abandon the mission, he landed at Rajouri, ready to make another attempt. At the first window of opportunity, he took off and landed safely at Sekhlu.
The weather report was showing a deteriorating trend, with destination Udhampur reporting a weather warning for rain and thundershowers. While most factors were against him, he was not deterred from his resolve of going ahead with the evacuation.
He finally took off with the casualty on board 25 minutes after sunset. He now flew through the same restrictive conditions further worsened by darkness. The hill shadows and presence of rain and clouds severely hampered visibility, making flying extremely difficult. Thunderstorm and rain made spotting and landing at Udhampur airfield an extremely demanding task but was achieved safely with utmost professionalism.
Ajit’s selfless courage of flying his helicopter through difficult terrain and in deteriorating weather and poor light conditions, not only saved the life of a Commanding Officer, but also helped in boosting the morale of the ground forces.
For having displayed flying skill, airmanship of exceptional order, courage and valour, Ajit was awarded the Sena Medal on 26 Jan 2005. Ajit could not receive the award in person due to his duties and hence we don’t have a photograph from the presentation to share.
Ajit also served in the UN Mission in Congo in 2005-06. He was a Qualified Flying Instructor (On Fixed Wing and Helicopters) and Instrument Rating Instructor in the Indian Air Force. He retired in August 2009 due to his mother’s illness.
Ajit is now a professional pilot in the private sector. Currently a DGCA approved Type Rated Instructor on EC-135, he is considered one of the most Professional Helicopter Pilots in India in the Non-Scheduled Operators circuit. He has to his credit over 7,200 hours of flying and counting….