A brave airman (1924-1957)

Flight Lieutenant Suhas Biswas was born on 9 September 1924, in Kolkata, to Samuel and Diana Biswas. After completing his education, he joined the Indian Air Force (IAF) and was commissioned as a pilot on 24 April, 1944. He acquired experience on various types of transport aircraft and became an experienced ace pilot. In 1952, he was posted to the Communication Flight under the Training Command. This unit was responsible for ferrying senior officers to various tasks.

On 3 February 1962, a major exercise was conducted at Lucknow by UP Area Command. It was attended by senior officers from various places. Lt. Gen. S.M. Shrinagesh, Maj. Gen. K.S. Thimayya, Maj. Gen. S.P.P. Thorat, Maj. Gen. Sarda Nand, Maj. Gen. M.S. Chopra and Brig. Ajaib Singh had witnessed it. Flt. Lt. Biswas was detailed to ferry them from Lucknow to New Delhi at the conclusion of the exercise. Biswas took off in a Devon aircraft at 6 pm. Moments after take-off, the crew observed smoke coming out from the engine, and soon fire broke out in the engine. Fire kept creeping towards the main fuselage, and it became difficult to control the aircraft. Biswas tried to extinguish the fire but did not succeed in that effort, and decided to force land the aircraft. He realised the gravity of the situation, but did not show that he was not in control of the plane. His behaviour was inspiring and he displayed leadership of the highest order. It was getting dark and he spotted a piece of level ground. He put the aircraft in a dive in order to reduce altitude. His plan was to crash land the plane before the fuselage caught fire. The aircraft shuddered and the engine mounting broke away. The burning engine got separated from the wing and fell off. He came out of the dive, levelled the plane and was successful in controlling the aircraft. He switched off the only working engine and successfully belly landed the plane at a village near the Sandilla railway station. All the occupants were safe and walked out of the aircraft without any injury. Biswas was the last one to walk out. Gen. Shrinagesh recalled that when he looked through the window, he saw flames coming out of the engine and the plane could have literally gone up in flames if the fire had reached the fuel system. The Devon incident has been mentioned in the biography of Gen. Shrinagesh authored by Brig. Satish Issar.

They walked a few miles to the nearby village and looked for some transport to reach the main Lucknow road. They took a lift in the only available transport – a bullock cart. Soon the search party located them and whisked them away.

The then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru wrote to Gen. Shrinagesh of his concern, “As it’s all over now, one can look back upon it with composure. It is perhaps a good thing to face such contingencies provided one survives!” Attention was also drawn to the rule that many senior officers should not travel together in the same plane.

Flt. Lt. Suhas Biswas was awarded the “Ashoka Chakra” for his presence of mind, skilful navigation, and courage in landing the aircraft on unreconnoitred ground. He became the first airman to get the coveted award. Due recognition was given to Flt. Lt. Biswas for the presence of mind, skill and courage in maintaining the stricken aircraft and saving the lives of many senior army officers, which included two future army chiefs and an army commander. The then Air Force Chief, Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee, had the passenger chairs removed from the wrecked Devon and presented it individually to each of the survivors of the crash with a brass plate mentioning the circumstances of the crash.

On 1 September 1957, Biswas was flying a Dakota aircraft on an operational mission to Mangalore. After take-off, the weather turned bad, resulting in poor visibility. He had to fly low over the Western Ghats and lost contact with the ground control. The aircraft crashed and the brave airman lost his life in the course of duty.

Brigadier Suresh Chandra Sharma (retd.)