Air India Boeing 777-237LR VT-ALF Jharkand at New Delhi IGI airport. Photo copyright Vedant Agarwal, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
Air India Boeing 777-237LR VT-ALF Jharkand at New Delhi IGI airport. Photo copyright Vedant Agarwal.

Kudos to Air India and crew for braving obstacles and rescuing nurses from Iraq

A report in The Times of India details the courage of Air India and its crew in its recent mission last week to rescue Indian nurses held captive by terrorists in Iraq.

The rescue flight was assigned flight number AI161 and would be performed by a Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALF Jharkhand which was kept ready while diplomatic parleys were conducted. The airline also empanelled four of its most seasoned pilots Captains Pankaj Agarwal and Atul Chandra with S P Sinha and Adhar Puri as co-pilots for the mission. Two crew for the journey into Iraq and two for the return trip.

The 777-200LR designed for ultra-long haul flights of over 18 hours can carry over 181,000 litres of fuel, and the flight from Delhi to Erbil is only six hours. However, with Iraqi authorities waffling on re-fuelling facilities, Air India decided to carry fuel from India. But, with a maximum landing weight limitation of 223 tons, the airline was limited to the amount of fuel it could carry.

Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper copyright © Karl L. Swartz

Catering and other support for the return trip was also done in India to prevent any last minute snags when departing from Erbil. Indian food was chosen to give the stranded nurses “home food” after days of captivity.

Despite preparations, the flight to Iraq was met with a series of hurdles. A few minutes outside Iraqi airspace, the flight was denied permission to enter. The flight was turned towards Kuwait. In the mean time, Air India officials briefed the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and India’s foreign ministry. The dynamic PMO swung in to action and conducted its diplomatic parleys and the flight was allowed to land in Erbil. However, this manoeuvre cost precious fuel which made it impossible to return direct to Kochi as originally planned, and instead land in Mumbai for refuelling.

It was later learnt this denial of permission was due to internal ego clashes in Iraq between the Kurdish authorities who control Erbil and the non-Kurdish authorities at Baghdad who gave the permission for the flight.

After about an hour on the ground at Erbil, AI161 took off for Mumbai carrying the 46 nurses who ultimately returned to Kochi along with 73 stranded Indians who proceeded on to Hyderabad and another 56 to Delhi.

Share your words of encouragement for the brave crew and the airline via a comment.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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  1. May be its the value of these missions which prevent the Govt from privatising Air India completely

  2. It Reminds me the time when Air India entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the MOST people Evacuated by a civil airliner. Over 111,000 people Were Evacuated from Amman to Mumbai – a distance of 4.117 km, by operating 488 flights in association with Indian, from 13 August to 11 October 1990 – lasting 59 days. The operation WAS the carried out falling on Persian Gulf War in 1990 to evacuate Indian expatriates from Kuwait and Iraq!!!! I hope they care like this for their daily passengers too.

  3. Salute to the AI crew and a big thank you to the gutsy PMO to get our fellow citizens out safely.

  4. I love stories like this — Air India has proven that it is indeed our national carrier!

  5. Air India can be great. This is a shining example. Looking forward to more people experiencing them, and hopefully Star Alliance will help with that.

  6. LOL! Yes, it would be great if the same amount of planning goes into every day flights and passengers. I guess PMO needs to be involved in day-to-day operations of AI.

  7. Nice article

  8. the problem is when in distress the people want airinda to rescue, any other occasion they want to fly with other airline.