By -
A story that goes back to 1980 in our days as Plt Offrs, fresh out of Trg on Iskra ac. We had been posted to Tezpur to convert on to MiG 21s. One afternoon, a trainer (2-seater) sortie was planned for apna Tiger PV Deshpande. He was in the front seat, with the CO, Wg Cdr Jagbir Singh as the Captain/ Instructor in the rear seat. It was an Instrument Flg sortie, which was 'no sweat' for Deshu, as he was among the better ones, if not the best, of our band of 8 Pilloos. 

The sortie was uneventful, and on completion of the exercise, the ac rejoined circuit for a landing on RW 05. This RW is oriented along direction 045, and has a parallel taxy track (PTT) on the northern side (that is to the left when the ac is on its landing roll). 

After a copybook landing, Deshu at the controls lowered the nose wheel onto the RW, and commenced deceleration. And that's when all Hell broke loose!! 

The left side main landing gear collapsed, folding inwards as though it was being retracted, and this happened at a speed in excess of 250-260 kmph.

Now the MiG21 is a fairly small aircraft, with short stubby wings. If the ac had had a larger wingspan, a landing gear collapse wouldn't have had quite the same spectacular effect as it did that day. 

The ac canted sharply to the left as the left wing came into contact with the ground. This caused a swing to the left, and rapidly went off the RW into the unpaved earth located between the RW and PTT. The ground was soft and slushy, due to the massive rainfall that is characteristic of Tezpur, and the elephant grass was thick and tall. It's known as elephant grass as one can lose one's pet pachyderm in it and not know it!! 

The ac exited the RW, cutting a swathe through the grass, and was lost to sight. For a brief moment, its right wing showed up as the ac hit some sort of a bund, slowing and gathering foliage and loose earth debris. And then..............SILENCE!!!

The ATC Offr reacted with a push on the alarm bell, and the Crash and Fire Fighting Rescue (CFFR) team swung out in a scramble. They dashed down the PTT towards the position directed by the ATCO, gathering speed as they went. But with no visual sighting, and no other signs (fire/ smoke etc) they were a bit lost, and asked for directions. The ATCO from his high tower was trying to spot the last position of the plane, but alas, the ELEPHANT GRASS hid her from his view. The CFFR veh slowed down to a crawl, and that was when they were presented with the sight of two disembodied white helmets (we call them bone-domes) bobbing through the grass and moving towards the PTT. Soon the two bone-domes emerged from the foliage, providentially still attached to two overalls, one green the other blue. Deshu and the CO had done a 'quick exit from cockpit' drill and moved upwind as per the drill. Both were thankfully safe and unscratched, and unlike James '007' Bond, they were shaken and stirred!! 

Seeing them, the CFFR veh led by Crash Fire Tender1 (CFT1) charged in to the gap from where they had emerged. Hot on its heels was CFT2. It had traversed barely 10-15 metres when CFT1 got mired in the slush. And worst was that there was still no sign of the ac!! CFT1 called up on radio of his problem, and CFT2 halted in his tracks.

By now, Flt Lt Soumen Ghosh a senior Cat 'Aye' ATCO, an ex NDA (38 Course) Offr, who was about to go off duty heard of the accident, and had reached the Tower. With his vast experience, he rapidly took stock of the sit, and with supreme calm took over the CFFR coordination.
"CFT1 hold position, CFT2 back out towards the PTT", he rapped out on RT.

Once he could see CFT2 on the PTT, he directed the crew to drive down the PTT, use Link TT onto the RW, and look for the spot from where the ac had entered the grass.

"Enter kutcha area slowly, follow ac track, look for debris/ signs of ac". 

Soon enough CFT2 driving very slowly reached the ac, which was very much in one piece structurally, even though damaged by its 'grass cutter' role. Meanwhile, Deshu and the CO had been picked up and had reached the Sqn. The Court of Inquiry examined the ac in detail and concluded that it was a technical failure of the lock-down system of the landing gear. Deshu was soon aviating after a very short break.

So, all's well that ends well, right?? In a way yes, but there was an interesting aside to this accident. 

The AOC was Air Cmde Pynamoothil Simon George (later Air Mshl, now sadly late), and father of two fine lads who served in the Indian Navy with distinction, with the younger reaching the rank of Rear Admiral. He was puce with rage on his Stn having been adversely commented upon by the Court of Inquiry, as they had remarked about the 'wildly growing foliage on the Airfield operating areas'. So for about a month after the accident, mechanical grass cutters drawn by tractors (Jungle Jims) were deployed for Foliage Control and Airfield Maintenance. This effort was supplemented by all personnel on the Stn being pressed into community grass cutting every evening, in lieu of sports/ games. So all airmen, NCs(E) and even subaltern officers were seen playing golf except that instead of clubs they were seen wielding the ubiquitous 'talwars'.

One evening, close to the Sqn area, an Airmen hit a good swing, only to be stopped short with a metallic clang. As more efforts to 'cut' were met with more metallic clangs, the JWO in charge stepped in to take a closer look. Soon, the team took down some of the foliage with bare hands, and a chain link fence was revealed. Despite the fact it had been overgrown possibly for years, the metal was in relatively good shape, not much corrosion...........and the fencing was around a building, the contours of which were vaguely visible now through the dense grass and vegetation. 

To cut a long story short, the vegetation was cleared with a major manual effort, and revealed a Nissan hut, the curiously shaped curved igloo like structures that were prevalent during the WW2, and which had been replaced with more modern structures. The locked doors were forced open, to reveal a long forgotten Logistics Store, with the last recorded documentation dating back to 1974. More to the point, it had been built as a temporary store, and war time augmented stores had been stashed there.

And after some time, the world in general, and AFS Tezpur in particular, had forgotten about it! 

In those days, the Gnat fleet was facing extreme shortages of brake units. The OEM was a U.K. firm Dowty-Rotol, which had been indigenised to units manufactured by Dunlop. Now Dunlop was facing industrial action by its workers, and located as they were in West Bengal, they eventually declared a lock-out, leaving a gaping hole in the supply chain for wheel units, braking systems and tyres for IAF aircraft.

Well, found in the Nissan hut at Tezpur were literally hundreds of OEM's brake units, neatly packed in greasy butterpaper, quite in mint condition. Command HQ was advised, and an airlift of this manna from Heaven (well from Tezpur really, but we shall not quibble) was quickly arranged. Sharp uptick in the aircraft serviceability of the Gnat fleet, thanks to a grass clearing activity, triggered by an accident on a Base that was not even operating that ac!! 

Yes, all's well that ends well.

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