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AIE pilots’ kin heartbroken

The Air India Express flight that crashed at Karipur Airport leaves behind heartbreaks from the cockpit to several homes.

Captain Deepak Sathe and his co-pilot First Officer Akhilesh Kumar, were among the first casualties.

Deepak Sathe, who had last met his mother in March, had planned to pay a surprise visit to her on Saturday, her 84th birthday.

Sathe lived in Chandivli, Mumbai with his wife Sushma. His father Colonel Vasant Sathe (retired from the Indian Army) and his mother Neela live in Nagpur. The pilot had kept warning his parents to “Stay at home, stay safe” during the lockdown.

The parents tried to remain stoic as they spoke to English and Marathi media persons at their home this week. The tenants had waited overnight before informing them of their son’s death. “Deepak was very helpful and would do anything for others. During the Gujarat floods, he saved the children of servicemen by carrying them on his shoulders. He was a very bright officer,” said Neela Sathe. “In the plane crash the lives of 170 passengers were saved, but the person who saved their lives got killed. It was the wish of god. We are proud that our son sacrificed his life for the country”.

The couple lost both their sons in the line of duty. Their other son, Captain Vikas Sathe, died in Jammu a few years ago.

Deepak is also survived by his wife Sushma, sons Shantanu and Dhananjay and daughter Anjali.  His mortal remains were kept at the airport for some time – pilots, crew and ground staff of Air India paid tributes to the late captain.  His friends from NDA and his neighbours call Deepak a jovial man, academically brilliant and one who stood up for the right causes, supported the truth and called a spade a spade. “He died as he lived. For others”.

The devastating Kozhikode crash has left another terrible void – in a family in Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura. According to reports, the 32-year-old deceased co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar’s wife is pregnant and just a few days away from her due date.

While the rest of the family was struggling to come to terms with the loss, Akhilesh’s wife Megha, who is expecting a child within the next two weeks, wasn’t told about his death.

Kamal Sharma, Akhilesh’s maternal uncle, told media persons that the entire family had been very happy for months and would only talk about welcoming the baby. “No one could have imagined that something like this would happen,” he said.

According to his father, Tulsiram Sharma, they received a call from Air India at about 10:30 pm informing them. that Akhilesh was seriously injured in a crash. “I didn’t know what to do. I told my younger son Lokesh to call Air India officials and check on Akhilesh. They told us that his condition was critical. Later, around midnight, they told me that Akhilesh had died”.

Akhilesh began flying for Air India Express in 2017. The family last saw him in March. Akhilesh had spoken last to his wife – asking her to stay safe and take care; he had applied for 15 days’ leave from August 21, to prepare for the baby’s arrival. He was to call home as soon as he landed in Kerala, but the sad call came from AI instead.

“We could have never imagined that he would lose his life like this,” Tulsiram said. The father is hoping that his daughter-in-law will be able to get a job to support her child.

Apart from his parents and wife, Akhilesh is survived by his younger brothers Bhuvnesh and Lokesh and an elder sister. Megha and Akhilesh got married two years ago and lived at the Air India base in Kozhikode. Megha had moved to her in-laws’ home in June because of her pregnancy.

“He was brilliant at studies. I wanted my son to become an IAS officer – but he opted to fly. His younger brother Lokesh too wants to become a pilot, but I am now scared,” Tulsiram said.

Akhilesh was part of  the first Air India Express repatriation flight under the Vande Bharat Mission to land in Kozhikode on May 8, 2020, bringing back several stranded Indians in Dubai. He and team was given a hero’s welcome then. Three months on, Akhilesh was the co-pilot of the ill-fated flight that took his life.

His mortal remains were brought from Kochi to Delhi Airport at 2:25 am on Sunday, which were then brought to Mathura.  About 200 Air India members paid tributes to Kumar, and observed two minutes of silence and prayed for the departed officer’s soul.

Pic courtesy: PTI

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