Service No : 34110 F(P)

Date of Birth : February 13, 1991

Place of birth : Rohtak Dsit (Haryana)

Last Rank : Flying Officer

Unit : 33 Sqn AF

Arm/Regt : Indian Air Force

Martyrdom : July 22, 2016

Flying Officer Pankaj Kumar Nandal

Flying Officer Pankaj Kumar Nandal hailed from Nandal village in Rohtak district of Haryana and was born on 13 February 1991. Son of an IAF veteran JWO Krishan Chander Nandal and Smt Usha Devi, Fg Offr Pankaj Kumar Nandal spent his childhood with his paternal grandparents Smt Sukhana Devi and Choudhary Bharat Singh Nandal. He did his schooling at various schools which included Air Force School, Adampur (Punjab), Kendriya Vidyalaya Nasik (Maharashtra), Harkishan Memorial School, Rohtak (Haryana), and Indus Public School Rohtak (Haryana). He was academically brilliant and passed all his classes with distinction. Subsequently, he passed a BSc in aeronautical science from Chennai. Besides doing exceedingly well in academics, he was a keen sportsman and specifically excelled in softball, Baseball, and throwball. He participated in numerous sports competitions and brought laurels for his school and the state. The 'Soft Ball Association of India even awarded him with the "Best Allrounder Player" award in the year 2007 for his superlative performance in the game.


He always wanted to serve in the Armed Forces like his father and continued to follow his dream while growing up. Eventually, his dream came true and his joys knew no bounds, when he cleared the 'Combined Defence Services Examination' in 2012 and got selected for the flying branch in the Indian Air Force. He joined the Air Force Academy (AFA) Dindigul, Hyderabad on 07 Jan 2013 for his flying training and got trained as a transport pilot, as part of the 194th Pilots' Course. He passed out from AFA and was commissioned as a Flying Officer on 20 Dec 2014 at the age of 23 years. When he got commissioned, he became the first Air Force officer from his village following the legacy of his father, who had the distinction of being the first airman from his village way back in the year 1980. After completing his training, he got posted to an operational squadron and started honing his flying skills further to get expertise in various air operations. He was all set to get married in November 2016, but before that could happen, destiny had something else in store for him. 


Air Transport Operation: 22 July 2016


During July 2016, Fg Offr Pankaj Kumar Nandal was serving with 33 Sqn based at Sulur (Coimbatore) in Tamil Nadu. No. 33 Squadron was initially formed as a unit on 09 Jan 1963 at 19 Wing Air Force at Guwahati (with two Caribou aircraft) with Wing Commander John Charles Plomer as the first 'Commanding Officer'. Subsequently, it was re-designated as a squadron in Sep 1963 with 16 Caribou aircraft.  After more than twenty-seven years of dedicated service under the Eastern Air Command, 33 Squadron left the hills and valleys of the East and moved to Sulur in Jun 1991. In Nov 1986, the An-32 aircraft were inducted into the squadron, which heralded a new era of rapid and efficient air transportation. The squadron was involved in "Operation Pawan" in support of the IPKF in Sri Lanka during 1987-88. Apart from supporting Andaman and Nicobar, the squadron undertook communication flights along with other air transportation commitments. On 22 July 2016, 33 Squadron under the command of Group Captain Ashish Kaul was tasked to undertake one more such air transport operation.  Fg Offr Pankaj Kumar Nandal was tasked to undertake the operation as co-pilot with Flt Lt Pushpender Badsara as captain and Flt Lt Kunal Barpatte as Navigator of the aircraft.


The task was to carry men and material from Chennai to the Air Force station at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  Fg Offr Pankaj Kumar Nandal along with other aircrew took off in an AN-32 (K-2743), a twin-engine turboprop transport aircraft, from Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai at 8.30 am, with 29 people on board, including six crew members, 11 Indian Air Force personnel; two Indian Army soldiers; one each from the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard; and eight defence civilians working with Naval Armament Depot (NAD) and the material load. The aircraft was one of the 50-odd medium-lift tactical aircraft upgraded with air-frame strengthening and newer avionics under the $398 million (Rs 1,965 crore) contract inked with Ukraine in June 2009. The aircraft was expected to land at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at 11.30 am. However, at 9.12 a.m. i.e. around 42 minutes after takeoff and about 151 nautical miles east of Chennai, the aircraft lost contact with the ground radar and went missing.


The IAF, the Navy, and the Coast Guard mounted a massive search and rescue operation. As many as 18 warships and vessels, as well as two Poseidon-8I, one C-130J Super Hercules, and three Dornier aircraft, were dispatched to the choppy seas in a “probable crash zone” to hunt for the missing Russia-made plane. Indian Navy and Coast Guard ships were deployed to scan the surface of the sea as part of the search operations after the aircraft went off the radar. Also, data from Indian satellites was scanned to locate the missing aircraft. The aircraft was not fitted with an underwater locator beacon, which made the search operations even more difficult. Despite massive search operations by the Navy, Indian Air Force, and Coast Guard, the aircraft and the passengers on board could not be traced. 


This disappearance kicked off India’s biggest search operation for a missing plane on the sea.  Despite massive search operations conducted jointly by the Navy, Indian Air Force, and the Coast Guards, the aircraft and passengers could not be traced.  The aircraft was not fitted with an underwater locator beacon, making the search operations difficult. Even scanning of data from Indian satellites failed to locate the missing aircraft. Consequently, on 15 September 2016, the search and rescue mission was called off and all 29 people on board were declared "presumed dead". However nearly eight years later, in Jan 2024, the debris of the missing aircraft were found by the National Institute of Ocean Technology, functioning under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, by deploying an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) at a depth of 3400 m, about 140 nautical miles from Chennai coast.


Fg Offr Pankaj Kumar Nandal was a dedicated and competent air warrior with a deep desire to serve the nation. However, his life was cut short and a committed soldier was lost in the line of duty. Fg Offr Pankaj Kumar Nandal is survived by his father, an IAF veteran JWO Krishan Chander Nandal, mother Smt Usha Devi, and younger brother Shri Vipul Kumar Nandal. 

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