Sewerage Water Tastes Saltish

Brig (R) Hashim Khan

Pakistan Army Aviation got the Cobra helicopters in Feb 1985, and a formal induction ceremony was planned on 20 Mar 1985 to be held at Qasim Avn Base, Dhamial. Brig Nauman (Late) was the Base Commander at that time, so the planning of the ceremony rested on his shoulders. Besides display of various manoeuvres of Cobra helicopters, he had also planned to show the spectators, Nap of Earth (NOE) flying, which was basically very low flying. Brig Nauman had selected a route which came along a nullah in the South of Qasim Base, and went past 503 Workshop, the one we crossed over a bridge if we entered the Base from Tulsa Road side. It’s the same nullah which carries all the shit from half of Pindi. On 8th Mar 1985, Brig Nauman took Col Riffat Beg Humayun, the Commander of Combat Group, and me in an Alouette III helicopter for the route recce. Why me? Because I was the sucker to fly the NOE part of the demonstration, and I had objected that the route was not suitable for a Cobra helicopter. We entered the nullah from Adiala Road side, and half way down the route, I once again objected that Cobra is more in height and length and wouldn’t be able to negotiate the bends in the nullah at such a low level.

Col Riffat gave me that “You chicken shit” look, and Brig Nauman said, “Keyun, dar gaye ho?”He may have said some more things but at that very moment the main rotors of our Alouette hit a small outcrop of a rock on the nullah bank and in we went into the muck.

Things could have turned very ugly for Col Riffat. Brig Nauman was sitting in the right seat, Col Riffat on the left, and I was in the middle seat. Since the helicopter had settled with its left side down on the nullah bed, so Brig Nauman was the first one out, followed by me. We waited a while for Col Riffat to come out, and when he didn’t, I dived back in that shit, got him un-entangled and we both came out. That’s when I had my first taste of sewerage water. It was saltish.

The helicopter was fully submerged, and there was no way to communicate with Control Tower, and a lot of people had started to collect, we decided to walk back towards the Base, lest the villagers started beating us for some other reason ie. ” bird watching.”

We reached the barbed wire at the undershoot side of dumble 32 and as we were helping each other to climb it, an MODC sepoy turned up from nowhere and with a rifle pointing said “Tham, Haath Ooper”.

He refused to believe that this gentleman with us, stinking to high heavens, was the Base Commander, and we too were officers. After a lot of cajoling he allowed us to climb over the fence, but all this while he kept pointing his rifle at us, coupled with very aggressive expressions on his face. We were walking past panel 4 when the search and rescue helicopter arrived and gave us lift till the Base Headquarters. Brig Nauman quickly washed himself and changed into a clean coverall, but Col Riffat and myself stayed in our scented coveralls. At one point I got a whiff of fresh sewerage water, I guess Col Riffat may have burped.

The funniest part came when the court of inquiry started. The president asked me, ” What were your reactions as an IP on the machine, when the rotors hit the ground”.

I told him , “It is an irrelevant question. Nobody can fly a helicopter without it’s main rotors. What could I do?”

But the president stayed adamant and insisted on an answer. So I told him ” When the rotors hit the ground, I said ‘Oh, Shit! and the next second we were in it.”

Yep friends, we had landed in shit.

On a closing note, let me say that it’s good to walk out of an aircraft crash, and live to tell the story, even if one walks out of shit.

Lessons Learnt:
a. Never be too over confident during NOE flying.
b. Never take your eyes off the ground ahead and on the sides.
c. Always listen to your co-pilot.
d. Sewerage water is saltish in taste.

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