Almost half-a-century after he shot down an Indian civilian aircraft carrying the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, a Pakistan Air Force pilot has apologised to the daughter of the pilot of the downed plane, saying he was "not a trigger-happy person" and this happened in the line of duty during the 1965 war.
Qais Hussain was a rookie Flying Officer during the 1965 war when he shot down the Beechcraft piloted by distinguished ex-Indian Air Force pilot Jehangir Engineer.
Besides Engineer and the then Gujarat Chief Minister Balwantrai Mehta, the Chief Minister's wife Sarojben Mehta, three members of his personal staff, a crew member and a reporter of the Gujarat Samachar
were killed in the incident.
Hussain, who wrote an e-mail
to Engineer's daughter, decided to explain his side of the story after PAF officer-turned-blogger Kaiser Tufail researched the incident and concluded that Pakistani officials had wrongly surmised that the Indian aircraft was on a surveillance mission.
"We were at war at the time and the initial impression after I shot down the aircraft was that we had been able to eliminate a new front. We were all very happy and I got a pat on the back from my colleagues," Hussain, 70, told PTI.
Referring to the incident of September 19, 1965, Hussain said: "This happened at about 4 pm. At 7 pm, All India Radio announced the aircraft that was shot down was carrying the Chief Minister and our mood became very sombre. We all repented what had happened but the event fell by the wayside."
After Air Commodore (Retd) Kaiser Tufail researched the incident and wrote a piece on it for his blog in April, Hussain said he was spurred to convey his condolences to the families of those who died when he shot down the Beechcraft.
"I thought it was better late than never. I'm happy to have been able to do something. I wanted to say that I was not a trigger-happy person and this happened in the confusion of war," he said.
Thanks to the efforts of Naveed Riaz, a Lahore-based businessman and aviation enthusiast, and Indian military aviation expert Jagan Pillarisetti, Hussain got the email address of Jehangir 'Jungoo' Engineer's daughter Farida Singh and wrote to her on August 5.
"If an opportunity ever arises that I could meet you face to face to condole the death of your father 46 years back, I would grab it with both hands. I would highly appreciate if you please convey my feelings to the other members of your family, who were equally hurt by the untimely departure of Jungoo to the next world," Hussain wrote in his email.
He explained he had acted only after he was ordered to shoot down the Indian aircraft by his controller, who had mistakenly concluded that the Beechcraft was on a surveillance mission.
"Your father spotted my presence immediately and he started climbing and waggling his wings seeking mercy. Instead of firing at him at first sight, I relayed to my controller that I had intercepted an eight-seat transport aircraft (guessing by the four side windows) and wanted further instructions to deal with it," Hussain wrote in his email.
"At the same time, I was hoping that I would be called back without firing a shot. There was a lapse of three to four long minutes before I was given clear orders to shoot the aircraft," wrote Hussain, who left the PAF three years after the incident.