In dramatic fly back, chopper rescues ex-Navy officer who once revived it

In dramatic fly back, chopper rescues ex-Navy officer who once revived it
For Sreekumar, his ardent efforts to revive a fleet of choppers was rewarded with his own life during the Kerala floods 2018.

The greater the efforts, bigger the reward. For Sreekumar, a native of North Paravoor, Ernakulam, who retired as chief aircraft artificer with the Indian Navy, the ardent efforts to revive a fleet of choppers rejected after Pokhran II nuclear test, was rewarded with his own life during the Kerala floods of August 2018.

Sreekumar, 38, hails from a middle-class family. After graduation, he joined the Navy at the age of twenty. Sreekumar's interest was in aircraft revivals. After Pokhran II in 1998, the Army marked as 'rejected' 10 helicopters due to unavailability of spares. The choppers, in the Westland WS-61 Sea King series, was made by the British. “I had great affection for that series. They were perfectly built that every technician would fall in love with its make. Even when the Army rejected it, I hesitated to leave them behind. After several years of effort, we devised a project to revive it and put it back to use,” Sreekumar said.

Sreekumar, who was promoted as chief aircraft artificer by the time, was part of a committee to revive the Sea King helicopters for the Navy. The team gathered the spares from foreign countries, making use of international bilateral policies. Finally, in 2008, Sreekumar had the 10 Sea King helicopters repaired and test-flown.

"I retired from service almost three years ago. My biggest joy during the final years of my service was watching my beautiful Sea Kings taking test flights in the academy," he says.

Cut to present and Sreekumar works with the State Bank of India. He saw floodwater rising in his locality on a fine evening. His villa in Kadungallur, near north Paravoor, was soon surrounded by water that rose from the river. On August 15, Wednesday, Sreekumar moved to the terrace with his wife and only daughter Rithika as the ground floor of their double-storey residence drowned.

"I called my relatives, neighbours and my old colleagues in Navy seeking help. Many of them told us that it was unable to reach out to our locality because of strong currents. The only way left to rescue us was airlift. After a night on the terrace, I heard a very familiar sound. When my wife and daughter were relieved to see a helicopter, I stared at it in sheer disbelief - it was on of those 10," Sreekumar said.

Almost three Sea King helicopters were used by the Indian Navy in the rescue operations carried out during Kerala floods 2018. One of them, Sea King 42B, was used for the famous, daring rooftop landing by captain Raj Kumar in Aluva. "Now that's something special about Sea King helicopters. Regardless of the large rotor blades that spin 203 times a minute, they are perfectly maneuverable," Sreekumar says with a smile.

The ex-naval officer says he literally broke into tears when he boarded the Sea King helicopter which came to rescue him. "Who knew I was sparing so much effort on the chopper which would turn my saviour once. Trust me, she hasn't changed a bit," Sreekumar says with joy. Sreekumar's wife, Bhavya, is a homemaker. 

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