|Details :|| Squadron Leader Pankaj Kathpal (22955) Flying (Pilot) is on the posted strength of a Mi-17 Helicopter Unit since 12 Jul 2004 and has been the unit supervisor since then.
On 31 Dec 2004, in the aftermath of the devastating Tsunami disaster wherein the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were badly affected, the base was called upon to launch three helicopters for relief operations at Carnicobar. A Helicopter Combat Leader, Sqn Ldr Kathpal had flown more than 2500 hours and was a unit supervisor. Moreover, having served at a helicopter unit at Carnicobar earlier, he volunteered to take part in the operation. Sqn Ldr Kathpal with his professional acumen worked out the details of manpower, ration, accommodation and various operational requirements, including the requirements for staging, camping, messing as well as equipments necessary for safe and effective conduct of relief operations.
Since he was the only air warrior familiar with the peculiarities of operating in Carnicobar area, he familiarised the complete detachment with the nuances of sea flying and inter-island operations and the detachment was fully operational in record time. Sqn Ldr Kathpal and his crew operated at the peak of human and aircraft limitations In marginal weather and inhospitable terrain. Under his able leadership, the officer conducted landings at restricted and unprepared areas, evacuating casualties and dropping relief material to bring maximum succour to the helpless locals. This was accomplished in such a professional manner as if it were a routine for the team. On 14 Jan 2005, he was tasked to airlift ration and fuel for around 250 people marooned at Katchal Island, The island being a vast jungle, there was hardly any place for the helicopter to land. Sqn Ldr Kathpal displayed utmost professionalism by selecting a restricted clearing in the jungle and successfully carried out the landing, after which the rescue team was able to provide relief material, which was extremely critical considering the fact that the island had been cut off for more than 20 days, and more Importantly, established communication facilities with the island. Moreover, the team, under Sqn Ldr Kathpal, was able to rescue three personnel who had miraculously survived the wrath of the Tsunami and shifted them to the rehabilitation camp,
During the entire operations, Sqn Ldr Kathpal flew a total of 56 hours airlifting 72 metric tonnes of relief material and 125 marooned personnel, thus demonstrating true spirit in the midst of adversity and highlighting the professionalism of the Indian Air Force.
For his selflessness, devotion to duty and upholding the highest traditions of the Indian Air Force, The Hon'ble President is pleased to award 'Vayu Sena Medal' to Squadron Leader Pankaj Kathpal.