Wing Commander Saurabh Sharma, Flying (Pilot) is on the posted strength of an AN-32 squadron. He is a Qualified Flying Instructor and has varied and extensive flying experience of over 7000 hrs.
On 01 Apr 2014, he was detailed to undertake a Transport Support Role (TSR) sortie to Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) Kargil in support of the Border Roads Organisation. The mission involved carrying 35 passengers in in addition to five crew members and was combined with pilot training. During descent towards Kargil, when the aircraft was below hill crest level the right side Propeller Locked warning light came on. The officer immediately took the decision to divert to Leh since landing at Kargil is difficult considering the length of the runway available. Further check of parameters revealed that the torque of right engine was critically low. Subsequently, the right engine Bearing Temperature and Low Oil warning lights also also came on. The multiple emergencies, with the aircraft in hills close to the LoC, required prompt decision making and a high situational awareness; the feasibility of diverting diversion to Leh was therefore ruled out. Any delay in feathering the engine would have led to engine seizure or fire with disastrous consequences. Once the engine was shut down, the aircraft could not maintain height and careful handling was required to maintain terrain clearance and executing a safe single engine landing at a high elevation ALG (Kargil). Also, the fact that the co-pilot was under training added to the adverse situation.
During this operation with passengers, Wing Commander Sharma did not have the option of ejecting the load and instead had the additional responsibility of saving the 40 lives on board. All these factors combined put the Captain of the aircraft in a very precarious situation. The emergency demanded courage in the face of heavy odds, good system knowledge, analytical ability combined with a high degree of situational awareness and area knowledge. The officer analysed the situation quickly and with his presence of mind and fortitude, managed to recover the aircraft safely.
For his act of exceptional courage and bravery in saving the lives of 40 personnel on board by successfully executing a single engine landing after critical engine failure at a high altitude ALG, Wing Commander Saurabh Sharma has been awarded with Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry).