From the pen of the Found­ing Ed­i­tor of ‘The Mir­a­cle.

‘The Last Sa­lute’ Ex­cerpt from the book

The Miracle - - Lifestyle - Sqn.Ldr. Nus­rat Hus­sain (R) nh.guid­ingstar@gmail.com

I t is an in­ter­est­ing anec­dote of lost and found ex­pe­ri­enced by my course mate then Flight Cadet Shahid Mah­mud, pop­u­larly known as ‘Chira’(a male spar­row) be­cause of his love for fly­ing. He was sched­uled to fly a solo night nav­i­ga­tion mis­sion on the T-37 air­craft. When he came out of the squadron on his way to the flight lines to­wards the air­craft, he saw Flight cadet Ejaz Min­has, pop­u­larly known as the ‘Black Sheep’ of the course, run­ning around the block- his in­struc­tor scold­ing him from be­hind. Min­has had flown the ear­lier mis­sion, which took off at dusk – and got lost. Radar guided him back. Now his in­struc­tor was mak­ing sure he never loses the sight of Risalpur by hav­ing him run around the Squadron build­ing. Think­ing him­self a hot rod pi­lot, Shahid, in his mind added the joy by com­par­ing the thump of Black sheep’s boots to the sound of a goat on dou­ble march. Min­has was called ‘Black Sheep’ be­cause, on a few oc­ca­sions of our ju­nior days, he had re­ported late to the assem­blies called by the se­niors. It re­sulted in ex­tra pun­ish­ment for the en­tire course. Th­ese pop­u­lar names were also termed as ‘Ser­vice names’ and were lib­er­ally used with last­ing love and tem­po­rary in­sult for each other. How­ever, ev­ery one took it in high spirit. Frankly speak­ing, I had earned ser­vice name ‘Nakka,’ for my big nose. How can one get lost with all the avail­able nav­i­ga­tional aids and by stay­ing in vis­ual con­tact of that fa­mil­iar area? Shahid, after the brief­ing, had fur­ther stud­ied the map and noted all the rivers, canals and tribu­taries which might shim­mer on that moon­lit night to steer theh course i in theh i in­tendedd d di direc­tion.i He took a men­tal note of all the towns whose flick­er­ing lights would as­sure him to the cor­rect­ness of route. Brim­ming with con­fi­dence, he shrugged off all ap­pre­hen­sions and headed to the tar­mac. “The flight path is fa­mil­iar. So what if it is night time, Piece of cake!”He thought to him­self as he climbed into the cock­pit after car­ry­ing out the pre flight checks around the air­craft. A lec­ture once given by the flight sur­geon about psy­chol­ogy of dis­ori­en­ta­tion came to his mind. “You will not trust your in­stru­ments even if the com­pass nee­dle is point­ing home.” It was hard to be­lieve though. If you are lost, why would you not trust your in­stru­ments? He later re­al­ized that in his case, the Flight Sur­geon sure was spot on. After get­ting air­borne, he climbed out to Mar­dan and no­ticed the lights be­low dim­ming fast due to hang­ing dust in the air. After climb­ing to the as­signed al­ti­tude, he set course to­wards south­east for the first leg. He nailed the two nav­i­ga­tion points in about fifty min­utes and made it back to Mar­dan. “It was after all, a piece of cake.” He con­grat­u­lated him­self. After the de­scent, he lev­eled off at two thou­sand feet and re­ported po­si­tion to the tower. Next up was to look for Risalpur and head home. “But where is Risalpur? Sure it is only nine miles, but where in the world is it tonight?” He could not spot the Risalpur bea­con. Now he had the rude re­al­iza­tion that the fat lady had not sung and mis­sion was not over after ar­riv­ing over Mar­dan. Risalpur’s bea­con flashes the Morse code signature “RS” – who could for­get dit-da-dit, dit-dit-dit. But that night he was not see­ing the bea­con. Sure he was over Mar­dan. He had some sense which way was north be­cause he could see the ver­ti­cal out­lines of Malakand hills. He es­ti­mated a direc­tion and headed in. The darn place was just 9 miles south and he did not see it. He turned back to soon find him­self over Mar­dan again. “Naiza 857, re­port po­si­tion”, he heard the Risalpur con­trol tower call­ing him. “De­scend­ing over­head Mar­dan,” he lied. Tower did not ques­tion that he had al­ready re­ported Mar­dan a while back. “There is no way in the world I am go­ing to be em­bar­rassed and let Black Sheep’s pun­ish­ment be­fall on me.” He re­minded him­self. On top of that, he will be the laugh­ing stock of the course, if not the academy, after hav­ing com­pleted the mis­sion but not been able to get back to Risalpur- just nine miles out. He had al­ready tuned his in­stru­ments to Risalpur and they were point­ing in the direc­tion he had just been. “I must have tuned them wrong,” he thought be­cause he had just flown in that direc­tion. Now some­what of panic set in. He headed east and soon no­ticed the gleam­ing Tar­bela Dam. “How stupid I am to come in this direc­tion”, he frowned at him­self. Soon he was again over Mar­dan and still could not make out where Risalpur was. “Naiza 857, re­port po­si­tion,” called the Con­trol Tower. He re­peated, “De­scend­ing over Mar­dan.” Whoso­ever was on duty that night must not have no­ticed that he had been “de­scend­ing” over Mar­dan for a while and still hadn’t “hit the ground?” Next he turned north and as ex­pected soon came upon hill­tops of Malakand. He turned around and was back over Mar­dan. He called an emer­gency meet­ing of all his in­tel­lec­tual fac­ul­ties. There was no dan­ger to his life or the air­craft he was fly­ing. There was still plenty of fuel. But it was the mat­ter of honor and blem­ish­ing of his un­blem­ished per­for- mance dur­ing all his nav­i­ga­tion mis­sions. The added in­cen­tive was the sight of Black Sheep’s lan­guid run­ning around the block, a fate that he had to avoid. Since, in his mind, air­craft in­stru­ments were point­ing in a wrong direc­tion, and that he had vis­ited Tar­bela twice, Malakand once, per­haps Now­shehra as well, where the hell was he with ref­er­ence to Risalpur – Mar­dan un­der­neath not­with­stand­ing. He was sure how his course mates would re­spond to his love for stay­ing over­head Mar­dan. The rea­son he could not see Risalpur was be­cause of its invisible bea­con. He should have spot­ted it when at ten thou­sand feet, not when he was at two thou­sand and some­how it wasn’t vis­i­ble. Then it hit him. What about the Pe­shawar bea­con? It trans­mits PS. He fixed his po­si­tion with the dis­tant Malakand hills and Mar­dan, knowing that he was fly­ing east to west. “Pe­shawar must be at my 11 O’clock.” He looked hard and found the faint Pe­shawar bea­con. Now that he had three points, he knew where Risalpur should be and looked that way. He doesn’t know if the dust over Ris­la­pur had lifted, or set­tled, but after a long hard stare, he spot­ted the Risalpur bea­con. Just then, this time in rather stern tone, the tower de­manded for his po­si­tion. “Head­ing base,” he replied with con­fi­dence back in his voice. Soon he was on the ground. When he ar­rived back at the Squadron, Black Sheep had been dis­missed. Those who flew the same mis­sion sim­ply headed back to the trans­port. Not a soul knew what had tran­spired with him over Mar­dan. Shahid left the Air Force as a Pi­lot Of­fi­cer after fly­ing the C1-30 air­craft. He lives in Mary­land with his fam­ily. Min­has went on to be­come a suc­cess­ful flight nav­i­ga­tor, de­puted to Saudi Ara­bia as an in­struc­tor end­ing his ca­reer as a Group Cap­tain. Min­has lives in Sar­godha and is now ac­tively in­volved in pol­i­tics of Pak­istan- quite a dis­tance from lan­guid run­ning around the block that night!

From Left---: Ejaz and Shahid

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