20 years ago just a month after the Kargil war, the Indian Air Force (IAF) shot down a maritime patrol aircraft of the Pakistani Navy over Naliya in Gujarat. Yes, you read it right. Indian fighter jets shot down Pakistan’s Flight Atlantic-91, a French-built Breguet Atlantic plane, on August 10, 1999 after it entered Indian airspace. All 16 Pakistani personnel, including five officers, on board, were killed in the crash.
While talking to the Hindustan Times, Group Captain Sanjeev Naraynen (retd.) recalled the downing of the French-built Breguet Br.1150 Atlantique. He said, “We never expected that he would go down.”
It is worth mentioning here that this was the biggest loss the Pakistani navy suffered in a single day since the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. “We didn’t expect so many to be on the aircraft. It was unfortunate. I learned about them when the media reported about their funeral,” Naraynen told Hindustan Times.
On the other hand, Group Captain Vijay Suman Sharma, the fighter-controller that day and commander of the 254 SU Control and Reporting Centre recalled that the IAF airbase at Naliya was preparing for a visit the next day by Air Chief Marshal AY Typnis when two MiG-21 aircraft were suddenly scrambled.
“I knew something was wrong. The Pakistan aircraft was picked up at 10.52 am, the controller vectoring the fighters had just three months of experience. I took over the controls,” he said adding that the fighters were airborne and heading towards the Pakistan aircraft by 11.01.
Vijay Suman Sharma further said, “The first aircraft was flown by Wing Commander PK Bundella and the second by Flight Lieutenant Sanjeev Naraynen. Their call signs were ‘Bandy’ and ‘Nanu’.”
“The sky was overcast, making it difficult for the fighters to spot the intruding aircraft. Radar signatures, however, showed the aircraft was on a southerly heading, crossing Lakpath and Koteswar in the Rann of Kutch back into Indian Territory. The two fighters climbed to 2,500 metres to avoid the cloud cover and at about 2,100 metres they spotted the Pakistan aircraft at 11.16. “The Pakistan Aircraft was about 10 km inside our territory. Bandy and Nanu closed in and read the tail number of Atlantique,” Hindustan Times quoted Vijay Suman Sharma as saying.
“It was carrying offensive weapons inside our territory. I gave them permission to engage.” Wing Commander Budella would seek radio confirmation “to engage” at 11.17. “Affirmative. You are cleared to fire,” Group Captain Sharma recalled saying. “At 11.18. Bandy was back on the radio, missile gone, left engine (of the Pakistan jet) on fire, breaking off.”
“I don’t know whether the Atlantique intended to come into India. Pakistan’s radar controllers should have warned the aircraft,” Naraynen concluded.