Some incidents stand out, which a nation does not want to remember. One such incident that the IAF , the Air Staff and the Government of India would like to forget is the 1959 spy mission over Pakistan which turned into a fiasco. At that time my Father was in the Air Force and stationed at Agra and I have thus a first hand account of this episode.

Information had been received that Pakistan was constructing special hangers for their aircraft with American help at their forward airbases at Sargodha, Lahore and Sialkot . The IAF was keen to know about these hangers and a suggestion was made to the  then Defence Minister Krishna Menon for sanction to carry out a photo recce operation of the area. The DM was assured by the Chief of Air Staff, that the entire mission would take about 10 minutes as the airfields were in close proximity of the Indian border. 

Krishna Menon for all the  scorn heaped on him later was a very able Defence Minister. He gave the OK and a top secret mission was planned  , using a Canberra Photo reconnaissance aircraft. Perhaps he also kept Nehru in the picture, but one can only surmise about this. The nature of this top secret mission necessitated that only handful of very senior officers along with the Defence Minister knew about it. The mission was planned for 10 April 1959.

Unknown to the IAF this secret mission had been compromised by a very senior officer, who was in a honey trap with a young Muslim girl. Thus the mission was doomed from the word go.  Early on 10 April the Canberra took off and entered Pakistan air space. it was piloted by 2 intrepid flyers Squadron Leader Sengupta and Flight Lieutenant Rampal( Navigator). Just as the plane entered Pak airspace, the pilots were shocked to see a Pakistan Air Force F86( Sabre Jet) airborne and waiting. The encounter took place at a altitude of 45000 ft.

The PAF plane fired at the Canberra which began to burn.  Sengupta ordered Rampal to jump out, while he waited to see that the navigator had jumped out before he himself ejected. Both  pilots parachuted down from a height of 45,000 ft , but suffered multiple injuries. A PAF ambulance was waiting and quickly took the  duo to the Military hospital at Lahore.

Pakistan claimed a kill and the CAS and the Defence Minister were aghast. They had egg all over their face and had let down Indian prestige. An investigation revealed the culprit who was dismissed from the Air Force. A lenient sentence indeed,  as such a betrayal  merited death by firing squad.

Now 55 years have elapsed and the IAF has made amends. I myself was detailed for a similar mission over Tibet, but presently it must be kept under wraps. Life can be thrilling.

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