A Lucky Pilot - Pakistan Aviation

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Wing Commander Lanky Ahmad passed away on October 12, 2004 at Lahore, Pakistan where he was born in 1924 and is buried in the Pakistan Air Force graveyard located just before the landing strip of the Lahore International Airport runway.

August, 1947
Holocaust in the Eastern Punjab

While under-training at the RIAF Advanced Flying School Ambala I was on a solo cross country flight to Adampur, Halwara and Patiala of three hours duration on 27th August, 1947. The weather was hazy and a thunder-storm was expected in the afternoon, much after my estimated time of arrival at the base. My thoughts were full of our newly established country and the bad news about the massacre taking place in the Eastern Punjab, where my parents were still residing. After Adampur, I diverted to my home town, a few miles away from the designated route, just to see if my mother and father were safe. There was no news from them for the last one month. After two or three low passes over the house, I was happy to see them waving at my aircraft, I felt relieved and set course for Ambala.

When I was near Patiala city, I saw the forecast thunder-storm was heading towards Ambala, much before the expected time, I circumvented the storm and flew very low to reach the destination which was inaccessible due to heavy rain and storm winds. A few miles short of Ambala, I had no other choice but to divert to the nearest Airfield, which happened to be Halwara near Ludhiana. From there I had just passed through about an hour ago. For the last two hours I had to fly very low over the canals due to clouds. The rampage and carnage which I witnessed, made me more frustrated and helpless. Besides the household material, a number of dead bodies were also floating in the water. On my final approach at Halwara, a red light indicated that only a few minutes of fuel was left over in the tanks. I was prepared to make a forced landing at any other flat ground. For that alternative and eventuality, I considered myself qualified having won the "Forced Landing Trophy" at the EFTS, Jodhpur. The flying instructor used to cut off the aircraft engine at about three thousand feet above the ground and the pupil was supposed to land at the nearest spot, marked at the Airfield.

In those days, Halwara had only two neglected airstrips built during the Second World War. I believe, that the Indians Air Force have since then developed it like our base at Sargodha. While taxiing to a safe place, I hid my identity card under my seat, because, I was not sure as to who the first person I was going to encounter, a Hindu, Sikh or Muslim. One man with a bid 'Danda' in his hand approached my aircraft. I asked him a bit authoritatively as to who he was? To my good luck he was a Muslim Chowkidar of the Airfield. I retrieved my Identity Card and dismounted the aircraft. My next question was, " how far is the nearest village?" He told me "Sahib, it is only two or three miles, also named Halwara."

After securing the aircraft properly I went with him to the village. It was a Muslim pocket where the injured, maimed and mutilated bodies were pouring in at intervals. The Numberdar, the headman of the village, became my host for the next four days. He told me that the place could be attacked by the Sikhs at any time. I did not want to be in a situation known as "from frying pan to the fire." I had to organise a round the clock security duty roster and also personally guarded the outer boundaries of the village with a 'Danda' in my hand.

The following morning, a Military truck from the Baluch Regiment luckily arrived. It was evacuating the left over families of the Military personnel, who had opted for Pakistan from various 'Muslim Pockets' in the East Punjab. Their next stop was Jallundar and returning later that evening to Halwara. I decided to go in this truck and hoped to contact Ambala about my whereabouts. On the way, the driver suddenly stopped the vehicle, at that time we saw some Sikhs were running and trying to hide themselves in the sugarcane fields.

Two Jawans from our truck, got down and aimed their guns towards the Sikhs. I stopped them, from taking such a drastic action, as they did not commit any offence, except for fleeing away in panic upon seeing a military truck. They obeyed my orders, because I was the only officer present. Later, after a few miles, driving on the canal bank road, we witnessed two carts loaded with Muslim children and women being looted by two Sikhs. They were busy snatching and removing the ornaments from the poor women, who were uprooted from their hearths and homes. As soon as they saw us, both the Sikhs immediately jumped into the canal. One Baluch jawan blasted the head of a Sikh into pieces, which splashed the water into red; the other got away by swimming under the water.

In Jallundar, I went to the Police Station, they informed me that due to the riots there was no communication with other cities, for the last three weeks. One of them, seemed to be a little cooperative and told me that there was a wireless set connection with the Simla Police headquarters, but it was not in operation at the time. However, he took my message for transmission to Ambala, which was never received by them. I did not intentionally disclose my identity as a Muslim, but gave the aircraft particulars and place of forced landing and returned to Halwara in the same truck.

the next two days, I kept on going back and forth to the Airfield from dawn to dusk, with the hope that a rescue team might arrive to evacuate me from this ordeal. On the third day, a Harvard aircraft landed, flown by a British Pilot with an Indian Army Engineer. They were inspecting all such abandoned airfields from Delhi to Lahore, for the suitability of an emergency operation by Dakotas. The pilot was very sympathetic and felt sorry seeing me in that plight. He promised to inform Ambala or Lahore as soon as he would get in touch with either of them. On the following day an Oxford Communication Aircraft arrived from Ambala with the fuel. The late Flying Officer Masroor Hosain was one of our Instructors at Ambala, who flew the marooned aircraft back on the 31st of August, 1947 and I returned as a guilty passenger in the other aircraft.

At Ambala, after continuous search and rescue sorties for three days in the Simla hills and surrounding areas, they had lost all hopes of my survival due to the severe thunder-storm which hit the hills only a few minutes before my scheduled E.T.A. Thanks be to God, that my parents did not receive any message about their son being missing and later declared "presumed dead." My younger brother Bashir was my next of kin, as mentioned in the documents. He was working with the P. & O. Shipping Company in Bombay also got the alarming news.

He was in constant touch with the British Commandant of the School, to find out about my fate. Upon my safe arrival at Ambala, the Air Commodore was nice and congratulated me for being alive, and immediately connected me to Bombay from his office. My brother could not believe that I was still alive after being missing for the last four days.

On the 4th of September, I flew one of the 6 Harvards allotted to Pakistan. It was God's will and my parents prayers which helped me to survive and made myself as one of the fortunate pioneers of the Pakistan Air Force. I am very proud to have had the opportunity to serve my beloved country right from its birth. I was told later by my elder sister Hameeda, that until her death in 1953, my mother always used to pray for the safety of any aircraft flying overhead, just because her own son was in the Air Force.