IAF airlifts 1701 stranded passengers, 1073 troops
9 February 2008
The Daily Excelsior
JAMMU: In a prompt response to the State Government’s request after the unprecedented snowfall, Indian Air Force (IAF) today launched ‘Operation Hamsafar’ and airlifted 1701 stranded passengers and 1073 Army and Para-Military personnel from the twin capital cities and Udhampur. These civilians and the troops were stranded at Jammu, Srinagar and Udhampur for the last six days as massive snowfall and rains blocked the highway connecting twin capital cities at many places. Even on the 7th day today, the highway remained closed for the normal vehicular traffic. However, after hectic efforts, the Border Roads Organisation partially reopened the highway this evening that too for very few stranded light motor vehicles. Defence spokesman said that Indian Air Force (IAF) immediately responded to the request of State Government and launched Operation Hamsafar this morning to provide free air service to the passengers and troops stranded at Jammu, Srinagar and Udhampur. The heavy and medium planes were pressed into service and IL-72 and AN-32 planes conducted several sorties till late tonight from Jammu to Srinagar and vice-versa, he said, adding in these sorties a total of 1456 stranded passengers were airlifted, which included 507 from Jammu to Srinagar and 949 from Srinagar to Jammu. Besides 1456 civilians, 973 military and para-military personnel were also airlifted to and fro twin capital cities, the spokesman further said, adding even the Udhampur base was also put to use for airlifting stranded passengers as well as troops. From Udhampur Air Force Station, 245 civilians and 100 Army personnel were airlifted to Srinagar. He said that if the State Government would request for shifting more stranded passengers the IAF will continue Operation Hamsafar tomorrow also but no such request was made till late this evening. It is worthwhile to mention here that Operation Humsafar was also launched during last year following closure of Jammu-Srinagar National Highway for several days together. This time the stranded passengers were charged Rs 215 by the civil administration so that only genuine persons could avail the benefit of air service. The decision to charge the stranded passenger was taken keeping in the view last year’s experience when several people misused the free air service for joyride, Divisional Commissioner Jammu Sudhanshu Pandey said. 'People should not be in the impression that State Government is getting free service from the IAF', he said and disclosed that Government will have to make payment of crores of rupees to the IAF for airlifting the stranded passengers. He also disclosed that all the 11 persons who were missing even since they had gone to hunting in Bhal Pari area of Bhaderwah on February 4, were rescued by the Doda Police with the assitance of Indian Air Force (IAF) chopper Meanwhile, the highway was partially reopened this evening but only few vehicles were allowed to ply due to extreme slippery conditions. SSP Traffic, National Highway, Danish Rana said that since this morning the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) personnel remained busy in removing accumulated snow and debris from the highway and at around 4.30 pm the highway was restored for one way traffic. Similarly, the Doda-Batote and Doda-Kishtwar roads were also restored and light motor vehicles were allowed to ply. However, the Doda-Bhaderwah road continue to remain closed. 'We initially allowed about 50 light motor vehicles carrying passengers to proceed towards Jawahar Tunnel from Banihal and all safely crossed the tunnel', he said, adding 'later around 80 trucks were allowed from Chanderkote to Banihal'. However, these trucks were not allowed beyond Banihal because of the slippery conditions and the highway was closed at around 6 pm. If the weather remains favourable the trucks carrying essential commodities and passenger vehicles will be allowed to proceed towards Srinagar, Mr Rana said, adding 'the drivers have been advised to drive with utmost precautions keeping in view slippery conditions and threat of avalanches'.