Friday, March 26, 2021

Fighter pilot remembered for his kindness and love for the skies

Durban: Colonel Ramalingam Ramanathan Iyer, a former MiG fighter pilot for the India Air Force (IAF) who later joined the South African Air Force (SAAF), will be remembered by his family for his kindness and love for the skies.

Iyer, 69, and Major General Desmond Barker, 71, both of Pretoria, who retired from the SAAF but were members of the reserve force and flew for the SAAF Museum’s historical flights, died last Wednesday.

The aircraft they were in, a single-engine Patchen Explorer, crashed.

According to a statement by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), the incident occurred during a scheduled general flying day at the SAAF Museum in Valhalla, Pretoria. It said an investigation into the crash was underway to determine the cause.

In 1968 at age 16, Iyer, who was born in India, joined the IAF where he trained.

“Soon after my husband completed his schooling career, he joined the IAF. Rama always wanted to be a fighter pilot and he made his dream a reality," said his wife, Anitha, who lives in Centurion.

“He worked all over India and had flown many aircraft. However, in 1996, after serving 23 years in IAF, he decided to leave as he wanted to work as a pilot for an airline. He had his Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) licence from India and the USA.

“But in his heart, he still wanted to be a fighter pilot, so he sent his CV to the air forces in the different countries. In 1999, he received a call for an opportunity to work in the SAAF. He was very excited."

Iyer, his wife, and two children, Meenakshi, now 37, and Ankit, 34, relocated to South Africa later that year.

Iyer, who had a Master's in defence and strategic studies, headed up the airpower development centre of the SAAF.

“He was also the director of basic flying training until he retired at 60. But because of his expertise, they kept him on for another three years. In 2017, he joined the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).”

She said her husband's motto in life was, "tomorrow is another day, live for today".

“In 2016, when he was diagnosed with cancer, he did not let that set him back. He fought hard to overcome it and he did. He always said there was nothing he could not fight for."

Anitha said Iyer loved South Africa and considered it his home.

“For him, India was home, and not just a specific part of India. But South African was also his home. He always said that if anything happened to him, then this was where he wanted to rest.”

Luis Dancuart, his son-in-law, said Iyer was generous and aimed to uplift society.

“He was a man with a big heart. He took on any project that would help people. His aim was to make a difference in as many lives as he could and he motivated the children he met. He encouraged them to always do their best. His death has left a huge gap for both our family and his friends."

Iyer's funeral and cremation was held at the Pretoria West Crematorium on Saturday. His ashes were immersed in the Hennops River at the Shree Ayyappaa Kshetram Hindu Temple in Erasmia. He is survived by his wife, children, son and daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

26/03/21 Nadia Khan/IOL

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