New Delhi, Apr 14 (PTI) Lieutenant Commander Bhaskar Rajvanshi was on Sunday awarded a gallantry medal by the Navy for his exemplary professionalism and courage in recovering an advanced light helicopter (ALH) from a state of "catastrophic control failure", according to an official statement.

A Navy spokesperson in a statement said this was the "first ever documented instance" of a safe recovery from collective control failure emergency in the "entire ALH fleet across all services".

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"The pilot with his limited flying experience ensured safe recovery of the helicopter and aircrew in an extremely challenging scenario, thereby saving an asset worth over Rs 100 crore. The recovery of the aircraft has enabled the services to undertake accurate investigation of the failure towards putting remedial measures in place for the entire ALH fleet," read his citation for the Nao Sena Medal (Gallantry).

On March 8, 2023, IN 709, ALH MK III (MR) helicopter was disembarking from the aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, to Mumbai with three personnel onboard.

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"Flying at altitude 500 ft above mean sea level, the pilot suddenly encountered a catastrophic control failure, wherein the aircraft suffered uncommanded loss of collective power, rapid descent without any warning or failure indication in cockpit," read the citation.

With no collective control available, the situation was likely to turn into a "fatal disaster," it said.

However, Lt Cdr Rajvanshi, captain of the 321 Shikra ALH flight, did not surrender to the given circumstances, displaying tremendous courage and extraordinary piloting skills, he manoeuvred the helicopter with limited control available to effect an "extraordinary ditching at sea," the citation said.

The pilot ensured that the helicopter ditched clear of merchant and fishing traffic and thereby avoided loss of civil property or lives. Even after effecting safe touchdown over the sea surface, the helicopter remained extremely vulnerable to unbalanced aerodynamic forces that could lead to toppling and sure loss of machine or lives, it added.

"The pilot observed utmost discipline, maintained composure and guided his crew to safety by swift deployment of emergency floatation gear and safety equipment," the citation further said.

The singular act of bravery, grit and presence of mind in the face of danger has upheld the Indian Navy's ethos, it said.

Lt Cdr Rajvanshi is "strongly recommended for the award of Nao Sena Medal (Gallantry) for displaying unparalleled courage and bravery in the face of an unprecedented circumstance", it added.

Three other officers were also conferred this prestigious medal by the Navy during a ceremony held at INS Hansa, Goa, in the presence of Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar, the spokesperson said.

Other three officers who were conferred the Nao Sena Medal (Gallantry) are Cdr Manish Singh Karki, Lt Cdr Panneerselvam Vishnu Prasanna, and Cdr Kaustab Banerjee, he said.

Lt Cdr P V Prasanna is a qualified Clearance Diving Officer and Saturation Diving Officer onboard INS Nireekshak. In January 2023, he led a mission to salvage a submerged aircraft from a depth of 219 metres. He demonstrated professional competence and unparalleled courage in the face of the most arduous conditions, read his citation for Nao Sena Medal (Gallantry).

In June 2022, Cdr Banerjee, Captain of Seaking 42 C aircraft, displayed exceptional bravery and unmatched professional competence while undertaking a daring mission towards rendering immediate assistance to a disabled platform being towed at sea, his citation read.

He accomplished the unique and challenging mission of flying a helicopter for a distance of 250 nm over sea with no diversion in marginal flying conditions with heavy rains. This has been the "first and unique occasion" in naval aviation history wherein a helicopter has opened out at sea to 250 nm without diversion thereby testifying the officer's gallant motive to achieve the mission, it added.

ALH is an indigenous aircraft manufactured by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

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