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Day was nearing for MI-17 parked at Parachinar. It had been hauling troops, rations, medicines and life saving equipment for men deployed at isolated places. Having burnt enough fuel helicopter could carry more load than the available seats. Passengers were many but only lucky ones could get seats; still some occupied floor to their exalted voyage to Peshawar. Havildar Ali Ashgar punched engines for startup under keen eyes of Captain Sohail Akbar and ever observant copilot Captain Khurram Shezad. Havildars Hazrat Hussain; the crew chief and Asif; the scanner were standing outside with their thumbs up to assist starting, not knowing, this might be their last thumbs up signal to any helicopter. Rotors moved slowly, gathered momentum and helicopter lifted off slowly to its eternal journey.

Crew of helicopter had a tough day. They had planned to be at Peshawar before sunset with all aboard for a well deserved free evening and passengers planned their next, duty, leave or forthcoming commitment. With Peshawar in sight, just nineteen miles away the crew initiated a descend. This was the time when every thing went out of control. Helicopter wavered; producing strange noises, unmanageable by the crew and went down with all its passengers and crew. Smoke rose, ashes burnt till the time the troops on ground were too late to rescue any one. A strong troop of officers and men had gone down in the line of duty. While for passengers it was change of duty station, leave or other official commitment, the crew of helicopter had traveled to their immortal abode in their yet another bona fide flying mission.

Crew of helicopter was strange combination of men of substance. Sohail Akbar who hailed from Bahawalpur was an ever volunteer to be assigned tasks once many opted for a day off. He was from that rare breed of pilots who would extend their tenure of duty in anticipation of operation thinking that new comer may not be familiar with ground situation. A month back he was committed in extensive operational flying that in addition he received another mission  for Para drop of SSG officers and men in nearby drop zone. He kept sipping water and remain glued to his seat in cockpit till he had burnt all the fuel and last man had done his jump. Such was his dedication to flying that he carried along with him.

Khurram Shezad had recently bought a piece of land in his native village Chak no 247 EB in which he is buried now. A silent, composed young man who ardently went for flying; is still cherished by his colleagues and officers of Punjab regiment where he was commissioned. His father sat by his grave recalling all appointments with heart surgeons in Rawalpindi that his son would never miss. His mother still waits for call on her cell phone which her son would make despite a day’s tiring flying. He left his whole village proud who have decided to name their village after Khurram Shezad.

Havildar Ali Asghar was not flying in his unit at the time of his demise. He had gone on extended tenure of duty in operational area. He was such a capable flight engineer that every pilot would desire him in the cockpit. He went to his home after a long awaited leave but not on his feet but on shoulders of his brethrens in arms. He his buried in Kandiaro under asylum of Shah Bhitai; making him proud for such a dedicated and brave son of the soil.

Havildars Hazrat Hussain and Asif were a set of dedicated men in the rear of helicopter. So alert they were to developing situations around helicopter that captain of the helicopter could literally close his eyes and land in demanding situations. They had been together for NVG flying, in joint exercises, in operations and under fire. They went together with their favourite steed that they had been nursing for years in Army Aviation.

Army Aviation is gathering of such breed of dedicated men that they stand true to their motto “Fauq-ul Qiram’a” “The Exalted Ones”.  For such a standing they have been paying in blood for years and shall keep paying for times to come. Men such as Sohail, Khurram, Asghar, Ali and Asif remain the torch bearers to be followed. They bear the spirit of each Army Aviator.