8 Inspiring Facts About Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe

In a tragic mishap, former Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe, who was flying the Air India flight (IX-1344) as a Captain, lost his life along with First Officer Akhilesh Kumar on Friday evening in the Kozhikode crash in Kerala. Over a dozen people, including Wing Commander Sathe, were killed and many injured when the flight with 190 people on board skid off the runway of the Kozhikode airport.

1. A former IAF Wing Commander, Captain Sathe was commissioned into service on June 11, 1981, retired on June 30, 2003 and moved to commercial flying. Capt Sathe was a forme MiG 21 pilot with 17 Squadron (Golden Arrows), Ambala who served the nation for 22 years He flew through the Airbus 310 for Air India before moving to Air India Express on the Boeing 737. He had been operating Boeing 737 commercial flights for last 17 years. Captain Sathe was awarded President Gold Medal in the 58th Course National Defence Academy and he won the sword of honour at the 127th PC Indian Air Force Academy, Dundigal. Captain Sathe was from Mumbai and resided in Jalvayu Vihar in Powai.

2. Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe was a top-notch Indian Air Force fighter who learnt his trade flying from the Soviet-origin MiG-21 fighter planes during his 22-year IAF career and apart from being an ace test pilot in the Indian Air Force; he was also a HAL test pilot.

3. Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd.), Additional Director General, and Centre for Air Power Studies said, “Wing Commander Sathe was a comrade in arms at the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment STE i.e. IAF’s flight testing establishment, with me. RIP Tester. The call signs of all test pilots have the ‘Tester’ prefix”.

4. A total of 191 people–184 passengers, including ten infants, two pilots, and four cabin crew were on board the aircraft. The flight, IX-1344, bound for Kozhikode from Dubai skidded during landing at the Karipur Airport.

5. The plane fell around 35 feet down into the valley after landing at Runway 10 of Karipur Airport and broke down in two pieces and apparently the front half took the damage but people in the rear half have survived. The Kozhikode International Airport is also known as Karipur Airport and it is a table top airport and the flight was flying the Central government’s Vande Bharat Mission. Kozhikode’s runway is surrounded by deep gorges on both sides. Table top runways are generally constructed by chopping off the top of a hill, and are often thought of as tricky for landings because of the lack of any margin for overshooting the runway.

6. According to the reports available till now the visibility was 2000 meter and heavy rain at the time of landing. Wing Commander Sathe, the ex IAF pilot, made three iterations of the airport in order to dump the excess fuel so that the plane has less chances to catch the fire as he belly landed the plane afterwards. Wing Commander Sathe was not new to landing on the table top runway at Kozhikode, and had flown to the city around 27 times. On Friday, records show he attempted to land the aircraft several times but due to incessant rains, he steered the aircraft around the airport twice before managing to touch down in his third attempt, but it skidded off the runway due to hydroplaning — when a layer of water forms on the surface, reducing friction with the brakes of a vehicle.

7. The aircraft then nosedived into a valley 35 feet below, and split into two while also rupturing the right wing of the plane. Also, he turned off the engine right before the crash and this act of bravery and presence of mind resulted in saving the life of the maximum of the passengers while he himself along with the Co-pilot First Officer Akhilesh Kumar lost his life.

8. Wing Commander Sathe was involved in a crash earlier in 1990s during his tenure in Indian Airforce too but he recovered quickly after just 6 months of hospitalization and passed the necessary tests to fly once again. He was always a busy person committed to his work like a true ex defence officer rulebook style and is survived by his wife and two sons who are both a double graduates from Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai and IIMs. Wing Commander Sathe’s aged father Brigadier Vasant Sathe lives with his wife in Nagpur while his elder brother, who was serving in Indian Army, Captain Vikas Sathe has sacrificed his life while fighting the terrorists in 1990s in Jammu and Kashmir.

Wing Commander Sathe was a good trekker and has climbed many peaks in South Africa and along with that he was also a proficient player of Squash.

Below is the Facebook post dedicated to Wing Commander Sathe by his cousin Nilesh Sathe.

It’s hard to believe that Dipak Sathe, my friend more than my cousin, is no more. He was pilot of Air India Express carrying passengers from Dubai in ‘Vande Bharat Mission’, which skidded off the runway at Kozhikode International Airport yesterday night.

What is learnt is as follows:

Landing gears didn’t work. Ex IAF pilot made three rounds of airport to empty the fuel which saved plane from catching fire. That’s why there was no smoke seen coming from the crashed aircraft. He turned off the engine right before the crash. He belly landed after the 3rd iteration. The right wing was ruptured.
The Pilot martyred but saved life of 180 co-passengers.

Deepak was an experienced aerial operator with 36 years of flying experience. A pass out of NDA, topper in the 58th course and an awardee of ‘Sword of Honour’, Dipak served Indian Air Force for 21 years before joining as a Commercial Pilot with Air India in 2005.

He called me just a week before and was jovial, as always. When I asked him about the ‘Vande Bharat’ Mission, he was proud of bringing back our countrymen from Arab countries. I asked him, “Deepak, Do you carry empty Aircraft since those countries are not allowing entry of passengers?” He replied, “Oh, No. We carry fruits, vegetables, medicines etc. to these countries and never the aircraft flies to these countries empty.” That was my last conversation with him.

He survived in air crash in early nineties when he was in Airforce. He was hospitalised for 6 months for multiple skull injuries and nobody thought that he will fly again. But his strong will power and love for flying made him clear the test again. It was a miracle. He leaves behind his wife and two sons, both pass outs of IIT Mumbai. He is a son of Colonel Vasant Sathe who stays in Nagpur along with his wife. His brother, Capt Vikas, was also an Armyman who laid his life while serving in Jammu region.

A soldier lays his life to save the lives of his countrymen.
It reminds me of a poem by a soldier:

If I die in a war zone,

Box me up & send me home

Put my medals on my chest,

Tell my Mom I did the best

Tell my Dad not to bow,

He won’t get tension from me now,

Tell my brother to study perfectly,

Keys of my bike will be his permanently

Tell my Sis not to be upset,

Her Bro will not rise after this sunset

And tell my love not to cry,

“Because I am a soldier Born to Die….”

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