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.
It was a very sad day for me because on this day of 14th February 1948, I lost one of my best Air Force friends and course mate, the young Pilot Officer Asif Khan.
It was only a day before, that we both were selected to fly to Gilgit Airfield for the first time. We were of course thrilled and flew together in a Harvard aircraft to Risalpur, where a second plane was to be provided. At the Peshawar Airfield, Asif won the toss and earned the right to sit in the front seat. Enroute, he flew extremely low over the Kabul River, nearly touching the water with the propeller tips. I am sure, this was done to impress and show me his dare-devil flying skill. Luckily, I had a joystick in the rear seat and had a constant pressure on it to avert a possible ditching in the river.
To this day, I rue the fact, why I did not report his dangerous flying to his elder brother Wing Commander Asghar Khan, the Commandant of RPAF Risalpur. He might have grounded him and thus cancelled his illfated trip to Gilgit. But such was the fate of many a dashing inexperienced pilots of any Air Force and to report against a friend was not in good taste. This was the first casualty from my course and I was undoubtly badly shaken.
We took off early in the morning in a formation of three Harvard aircraft led by the late Flt. Lt. F. S. Hussain, who was known to be one of the best aerobatics pilots in Pakistan. He was also flying to Gilgit, for the first time. Our mission was to fly back the Commandant of the Gilgit Scouts, Major Aslam Khan, Asif's elder brother, a lady doctor and a wireless operator. He was to be replaced by the Airman who was unfortunately sitting in the rear seat that I had occupied while flying with Asif from Peshawar to Risalpur.
The Commandant had earlier briefed us to fly a few miles towards the town ahead of the old and very small landing ground made by the British, for their biplane Wapati aircraft. It was primarily to warn them of our arrival as there was no communication between the Pilot and ground. Over Gilgit town, I saw Asif's aircraft at my tail, as I was number two to land after the leader. When we both switched off our engines we did not see Asif's aircraft nor could we hear the engine and propellers drone in the valley. I suggested to F. S. to walk towards the start of Air Strip as there was possibility of undershooting the aircraft in a wind-sheer. It had a steep drop of about 200 feet down to the Gilgit river.
When we were walking to the beginning of 'Katcha' runway, we saw three ponies riders approaching us. Dismounting hurriedly, they gave us the terrible news that the third aircraft had crashed in the heart of town and both the pilot and the airman were instantly killed. They had received this message on the field telephone line and we were asked to make our way there immediately. Wearing flying overalls and the ordinary shoes, riding horses for about four miles over the rough terrain to Gilgit was a tough job. But the news of Asif's death was so heart-breaking that we galloped all the way.
Incidentally, there were no motor vehicles in Gilgit in those days and the first jeep ever flown, was by me in the Dakota aircraft in 1950. The remoteness and isolation of this area in those days can be imagined by the fact that one of the retarded locals thought that the jeep was an animal. He had literally put a bale of grass in front of it. This story was also related, by Mr. IAN Stephen, the editor of famous Indian newspaper Statesman, in his book with the title "Shangrilla".
What we saw is indescribable. Two dead bodies covered with white bed sheets lying on the ground in a small compound of the post office, right in the center of small town. The aircraft had crashed with its nose down and was resting with the tail up in the vertical position; luckily, no other person was killed. We were informed that Asif made another pass over the town and performed a slow roll, close to the ground from which the aircraft never recovered.
I had no courage to see my friend's face and instead went towards the crashed aircraft. The first inspection confirmed my suspicion as to the main cause for the mishap. Asif wanted to impress his two brothers on the ground, the other was Lt. Anwar Khan and performed the fatal aerobatic. Once inverted, the airman obviously got panicky, not knowing what was happening, grabed the joystick instinctively towards him, making it an impossible situation for Asif to pull the aircraft up due to the reverse action of the controls. The stick should have been removed and stored properly in the aircraft in its position before flying from Risalpur. Unfortunately, there was also no communication between the pilot and his passenger because the airman was not provided with a helmet with the intercom system. These are of course, hind-sight comments which one learns only from experience.
In any case, Gilgit town that is about five thousand feet A.M.S.L. is like a bowl, surrounded by high mountains in a narrow valley. It was difficult to build up enough speed to perform an aerobatic manoeuver, like an inverted roll. But that was what flying is all about; thrills and dangers lurking around every corner. When only two aircraft without passengers returned to Risalpur, the Commandant, who was waiting for us at the tarmac, could have suspected something amiss, but losing a brother would have been the last thought on his mind. The loss of such a dashing and fearless pilot was an immense tragedy. I had always visited Asif's grave, whenever, I had a chance to go to Gilgit town after that fateful day.
I was so disturbed by the accident that in my nervousness, I bounced off the grassy ground at Risalpur in my first attempt on landing, and had to go-around. On my second close circuit, I saw the Commandant's family waving their hands from his house, thinking that it was Asif's aircraft because only he could have taken that kind of liberty of flying low over the "out of bounds residence". I remember, he used to make low passes over the Commandants house in the Tempest aircraft. He was once warned and grounded for a week by the late AVM. M. Rehman, Station Commander Peshawar on the complaint received from his brother. It was known to Asif that I had also made a few low passes over him. He never disclosed this fact and took the punishment entirely by himself.
In 1958, Air Marshal Asghar Khan lost yet another brother Squadron Leader Khalid Khan. His parachute did not open above the Jamrud Range, after he ejected himself from an aircraft F-86 Sabre because the engine had flamed out. He was a perfect gentleman and a good flyer. I came to know him more closely when in the same year I and my wife visited Munich, He was there on attachment with the West German Air Force. He helped me to purchase an old Mercedes for our European holidays.
I must once again pay a tribute to the bereaved family for the courage they had shown to bear the irreparable and very tragic twin loss. I always used to dread and pray for my own two brothers, Mubarak and Khalil who were also in the Pakistan Air Force as pilots. Thank God, that they are happily settled in Canada. Whenever I visit them, they often talk about the exciting and thrilling life we all had during our service career. Khalil an Aitchisonian was permanently grounded as he did not stop doing unauthorised low flying in a T33 jet aircraft and retired as an Air Traffic Controller.