Service No : 9518 F(P)

Date of Birth : December 3, 1942

Place of birth : Kottayam Dist(Kerala)

Last Rank : Squadron Leader

Arm/Regt : Indian Air Force

Martyrdom : November 4, 1977

Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac

Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac hailed from Kottayam district in Kerala and was born on 03 Dec 1942. Son of Shri BG Shriyan an Indian Administrative Cadre officer and Smt Thangamma, he had three brothers and four sisters as his siblings. He did his schooling at MD High School Kottayam and later joined Cotton High school in Trivandrum. As his father was in a transferrable job, he studied from various schools in different places. Eventually he completed high school at Model School Trivandrum in 1959 and joined Pre-degree college. He was an athlete of considerable skill and stamina and excelled in various field games. He had a special interest in football and had a dream of representing the country in football at the international level.


He joined the flying school and had a dream of donning the Army uniform. His application for joining the Army was rejected, but he got selected for the Air Force. He got commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the IAF on 16 May 1965 at the age of 22 years. He joined the flying stream of the IAF and got trained as a pilot as part of the 93rd Pilots' course. By 1977, he had put in around 11 years of service and had evolved into a competent pilot having expertise in various air operations.


Air Transport Operation: 04 Nov 1977


During Nov 1977, Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac was serving with the Air Headquarters Communication Squadron of the IAF. The Squadron was formed on 01 Nov 1947 and was based at Air Force Station Palam since its inception. The primary role of the Squadron was to convey VVIPs/VIPs of India and visiting foreign heads of states and Governments. On 04 Nov 1977, the Prime Minister of India, Shri Morarji Desai was scheduled to visit the North Eastern States of India, on an official tour. He was to fly from Delhi to Jorhat (Assam), and for this journey, an aircraft  TU-124 of of the Indian Air Force HQ Communications Squadron was to ferry the PM and his entourage to Jorhat and return to Delhi.  Accompanying the PM were his son Shri Kantibhai Desai, Shri John Lobo(Chief of the Intelligence Bureau) and Shri PK Thungon, the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh. Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac was selected to undertake that operation as co-pilot of the Russian made TU-124 jet named Pushpak (flowered chariot), a twin-engine passenger aircraft, specifically used for VIP movement.  


The other Crew members included Wg Cdr Clarence Joseph D'Lima (Pilot), Wg Cdr Joginder Singh (Navigator), Sqn Ldr VVS Sunkar (Flight Engineer), Flt Lt OP Arora (Flight Signaler), Flt Lt PK Raveendran (Under Trainee Flight Engineer), and three other non-commissioned officers on board. The Air HQ Comm Sqn flight took off from Palam Airport Delhi, at 5 pm on 04 Nov 1977. Upon reaching Bagdogra, the pilots – Wg Cdr CJ D’Lima and Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac committed to proceed to Jorhat.  The airport was enveloped in darkness and was under a cloud cover. But they had with them a very competent Navigator – Wg Cdr Joginder Singh, who successfully directed the pilots to Jorhat airport. The TU-124 aircraft was equipped with an Instrument Landing System, but the necessary ground equivalent system was not available at Jorhat. In such a situation,  the navigator on board had to use his skills and knowledge, along with information like speed, heading, etc. and some instruments which were basically direction finders, to direct the aircraft to the airfield. When they descended into Jorhat (about 100 minutes after take off from Delhi)  and broke through the cloud cover, the pilot could see the runway ahead. But Wg Cdr D’Lima and Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac realized that the aircraft was positioned slightly ‘off’ the runway, slightly high and too near the runway. 


Wg Cdr D’Lima and Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac decided to ‘go around’ which meant abort landing, fly over the runway, gain height, turn back and come in for fresh approach for landing, this time calculating more precisely the distance, direction and alignment of the aircraft with the runway. On the 2nd attempt meters from touchdown, the landing gear grazed a tree top damaging the nose landing gear.  Wg Cdr D’Lima and Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac felt that it was dangerous to risk the life of the PM & passengers by attempting to land on the hard surface of the runway with a damaged nose wheel and decided on a crash landing in a soft wet paddy field 25 kms from the Johrat Airbase.  As a result, the cockpit took the maximum impact instead of the passenger cabin.  A belly landing would have risked an explosion which would have put both crew and passengers in danger. The daredevil action of Wg Cdr D’Lima and Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac and their crew averted what could have been the worst VVIP disaster in Indian History.  The nose of the aircraft got ripped apart, especially from below and everything from the bottom part of the cockpit fell open. The first to be thrown out of the aircraft was Wg Cdr D’Lima, who fell about 50 meters from the tree, followed by other crew members – all fell in a heap.  All the crew perished even before the flight halted, but PM Shri Morarji and others in the passenger cabin survived. Besides Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac, the other air warriors who made the supreme sacrifice included Wg Cdr CJ D'Lima, Wg Cdr Joginder Singh, Sqn Ldr VVS Sunkar and Flt Lt O P Arora. Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac was a committed soldier and gallant air warrior who laid down his life in the line of his duty. 


Sqn Ldr Mathew Cyriac is survived by his wife, daughter Smt Roopa Abraham and brother Shri Babu Cyriac.

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