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Escape to Burma

Escape to Burma

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Published by: api-3813241 on Dec 03, 2009
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Escape to Burma: Brig S Liaqat Bokhari

The writer commanded Logistic Flight Eastern Command, Dacca, and after
promotion in August 1971, 4 Army Aviation Squadron in East Pakistan, and was
awarded Sitara-i-Jurat for his courage during this crisis and the war. He did his
Masters in English literature and LLB during his service in the army

The unit that did not surrender

On the night of 16 December, '71, Chief of Staff, Eastern Command, while
passing the instructions for the unfortunate surrender, ordered the destruction of
all equipment including guns, tanks, and aircrafts before the surrender. I
suggested that instead of destroying the helicopters, they should be flown to
Pakistan via Burma. After obtaining the approval from the General Headquarters,
permission to fly out was given to the Commanding Officer by the Commander
Eastern Commander, Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi.

At 0320 hours on 16 December, '71, I and Major Riaz ul Haq, along with Major Ali
Khan took off in the first MI-8 Helicopter, followed by Major M. Akram and Major
Jawahar in the second helicopter at 0325 hours. The cargo helicopters carried
about 30 passengers each, against the 16 authorised with full internal fuel tanks.
To take off from the Golf Course, surrounded by tall trees, in pitch dark without
any lights, with a heavily loaded helicopter was very risky and hazardous. It was
only the proficiency and determination of the 4 Aviation Squadron pilots that
made it a success.

Major Naoman Mahmood and Major P. C. Tierney took off at 0330 and 0335
hours respectively in their Alouette helicopter. Flying time from Dacca to Akyab in
an Alouette helicopter was over three and half hours, whereas their safe
endurance was much less. They had to carry extra fuel in jerry cans for their en
route self-fuelling at some unknown place in the hostile area.

The sky was completely overcast and there was not even any starlight. In the
pitch dark, the helicopters had to fly as low as possible to avoid detection by the
enemy radar, at a pre-determined speed at an interval of 5 minutes to avoid mid
air collision. Indian Aircraft carrier 'Vikrant' was positioned next to Coxs Bazar to
monitor any likely escape by the Pakistani helicopters. This was the most difficult
and hazardous mission for the aviators to fly without adequate instruments to
another country at night without light and ground navigational aid under complete
enemy air superiority.

Major Tauhid ul Haq, Major Masud Anwar and Major Zareef took off from Dacca under the nose of the enemy at 1300 hours, when advance Indian elements had already entered Dacca Cantt. They had to fly at tree top level to avoid detection by the enemy fighters. Their landing in hostile area during daytime for refueling was very demanding. They landed safely at Akyab at 1630 hours, and joined the rest of the unit.

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