Wednesday, May 13, 2020

3 pilots in a car travel 2,400km, beat lockdown

Kolkata: Pilots Ashwin Mandokhot, Shailendra Kapoor and Rahul Gahukar have, in the course of their duty, criss-crossed the country many times over, several times in turbulent weather. But the Covid-induced lockdown forced them to undertake a journey they had never experienced before: a 2,400km trip across the breadth of the country, swapping aeroplane joysticks for the more humble steering wheel of an SUV.
The three, all captains of private carrier AirAsia India, were stranded in the city for over a month since the lockdown began. After various means to travel home failed, they drove down to Nagpur and Bengaluru, their home cities, in a car borrowed from another pilot.
On March 24, Gahukar (42) and Kapoor (32) — residents of Nagpur and Bengaluru — had touched down in Kolkata just before flights were suspended. Theirs was one of the last passenger flights to land in Kolkata. Mandokhot (43), also a Bengaluru resident, piloted a special cargo flight on April 4, flying in medicines and health kits to battle Covid-19. They checked into a hotel in New Town, expecting to catch a flight back home soon afterwards.
But with the lockdown extended twice and no flight resumption announced, the three were well and truly stranded. Cooped up in the hotel, they were not only getting homesick, but were anxious to go home. Gahukar’s father, a cancer patient under immunotherapy, required a drug that wasn’t available in Nagpur. Gahukar had procured it in Kolkata but wasn’t able to deliver it home. The other two, too, had health worries about family at home.
Desperate to return, they even sought permission to hop on to a cargo flight, but were denied permission.
Realizing the urgency, airline station manager Debalina Ramachandran reached out to Captain Sarvesh Gupta of IndiGo Airlines, who had for years served as the Airlines’ Operators Committee chairman at Kolkata airport. Gupta contacted home secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay. Once he was convinced the case was genuine, Bandyopadhyay brought senior police officers into the loop.
Hari Kishore Kusumakar, secretary (coordination), home and hill affairs, organised the permission. Since Odisha had refused to allow any vehicles to pass through, it was decided that all three would travel in one vehicle that would first head to Nagpur and then go to Bengaluru.
“Since no permission was possible for a hired vehicle and its driver to return, the three would have to drive on their own. They now needed a car. Captain Rajeev Pandey of IndiGo, who had learnt about their plight, offered his SUV. The three finally set off on the journey at 8.30am on May 2,” recounted Gupta.
Travelling via Jamshedpur, Ranchi, Bilaspur and Raipur, they reached Nagpur at 7pm on May 3 to drop Gahukar. After stopping overnight, Mandokhot and Kapoor set off again around 10am on May 4. They drove via Adilabad to reach Hyderabad around 7pm. After an overnight rest, they set off on the final leg of the journey and reached Bengaluru around 7pm after driving through Kurnool and Anantpur.
13/05/20 Times of India
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