By Wg Cdr J Lalhmingliana
(Editor’s note: In this article, the author, a former Indian Air Force pilot, takes us on a captivating journey to relive a momentous chapter in history. It unfolds against the backdrop of the remarkable Mizo Peace Accord, inked on June 30, 1986. After the signing of the peace accord in Delhi, top Mizo leaders and politicians embarked on an extraordinary flight back to Aizawl, brimming with hope and aspirations for a brighter future. Let us delve into the rich tapestry of this historic airborne odyssey, where dreams took flight, and a new era of peace and reconciliation beckoned)
It was precisely 5:45 pm on the 1st of July, 1986, when the doorbell of my quarters, N-4/3 at the Multi-Story Flats in Sector-13, RK Puram, rang. My family and I were engrossed in watching television at that moment. It was my wife, Rosie Zohmingliani, who answered the door, only to find a dispatch rider standing there. He uttered, “Memsahib, urgent message for Commander Joe from the Operation Control Room, deliver karna ke liye aaya hai.” The Home Ministry’s dispatch rider handed over a message which read as follows:
FLYING PROGRAMME (VIP COMMITMENT)
MISSION: To transport the Mizoram-Peace-Accord Team from New Delhi-Silchar (Kumbhirgram)
AIRCRAFT: AVROHS-748 VIP VERSION, Call Sign-VT-EHL
DATE OF DEPARTURE: 2nd July 1986 (Wednesday), 0715 Hours
CREW: Wing Commander J Lalhmingliana
(1) Co-Pilot: Captain Suresh Beri
(2) Navigator: Wing Commander B D Gandhi
FLIGHT STATUS: VVIP/VIP
FLIGHT: As per SOP for VIP
As soon as I received the message, I called my crew and gave them instructions. After half an hour, the telephone rang, and when I picked up the receiver, it was Pu Rokunga Chhungte, a chef at the Ashoka Hotel. He said, “Pu Hming, I am happy that the Peace Accord has been signed. I am delighted to provide refreshments for the flight. How many passengers will there be, and how long will the flight be?”
Just as I was preparing to retire for the night, another phone call came. This time, it was Pu Laldenga. He inquired, “Pu Hming, why have none of my men been included in the passengers’ list?” I replied, “Pu Deng, the passengers’ list was prepared by the Operation Control Room, and I had no knowledge of it.”
“If that’s the case, I insist that my men are included in the list – they are Aichhinga, H Vanlalauva, R Lalawia, Lalhmingliana, and P Siamliana. Can you include them without consulting the Home Ministry?” he asked.
“Yes, I can. I will be at the Airport VIP Gate by 6:30 am tomorrow. Tell them not to be late, and leave the rest to me,” I assured him.
“Okay. I will send them without delay,” he replied before hanging up.
Since booking tickets, security check-in, and weighing luggage were not necessary for Home Ministry VIP flights, the passengers were directly transported to the aircraft by car. The flight commander had discretionary power to add more passengers, provided there were vacant seats and no danger of overload. On previous occasions, I had even carried my family on a VIP flight. I vividly remembered one such instance when I transported Pi L Tochhawng, an IAS officer, on the Delhi-Gauhati route when she was returning home for her wedding. She was the sole passenger. I was traveling from Delhi to Gauhati to pick up the then Minister of Home Affairs, L R Laskar, from Gauhati.
It was the peak of the Southwest monsoon, and I was aware that the weather would be unfavorable along the entire route. Furthermore, the flight route from Delhi to Farukabad-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna-Kishanganj-Baghdogra-Gauhati-Silchar was known for monsoon turbulence. We were about to traverse through the region known as Monsoon Through Line with the worst weather conditions. In good weather, the flight would take no less than four and a half hours. However, in such adverse conditions, it was uncertain how long the journey would last as we would need to navigate around numerous clouds. If I had to make decision based on weather forecast provided by the Meteorology Office, it wasn’t an ideal day for takeoff. In fact, several Airlines flights were delayed.
Despite the inclement weather, everyone was filled with excitement due to the long-awaited signing of the Peace Accord. The thought of canceling the flight didn’t cross anyone’s mind. For me too, it was an exhilarating experience as I was about to transport the top Mizo leaders and politicians of that time. It was an opportunity of a lifetime for an ordinary pilot like myself. When the VIP passenger, Pu Lal Thanhawla, the Chief Minister, and the other passengers arrived, we took off at 7:45 am from Delhi Airport.
The passengers on this historic flight were as follows:
Lal Thanhawla, Chief Minister (VIP)
Lal Riliani (Mrs. Lal Thanhawla)
Dr. C Silvera, MP
Lawmzuali (Mrs. Silvera)
F Lalthlamuana, Treasurer, MPCC
Lalkhama, Chief Secretary
Vasudevan, Joint Secretary, MHA
H Vanlalauva, MNF
R Lalawia, MNF
Lalhmingliana (Tarmita), MNF
P Siamliana, MNF
Just as we were soaring through the skies, it dawned on me that our flight was playing a risky game of “who can carry the most.” Unlike normal flights, this one conveniently skipped the whole baggage weighing ordeal. Oh boy, what a treat! Naturally, everyone decided to pack their entire lives into their suitcases because, hey, who doesn’t love free excess baggage? We had folks lugging around Color TVs, generators, portable wardrobes, and not one, not two, but three Mirzapur carpets! It was like a bizarre game of “Let’s Bring Your Entire House on Board!” But hey, in the grand scheme of things, we survived the overloaded adventure unscathed. Who needs a smooth, hassle-free flight when you can have an adrenaline-pumping circus in the sky? Kudos to the laws of physics for not abandoning us mid-air!
As we soared 18,000 feet above Lucknow, a delightful surprise awaited us. The talented chef Pu Rokunga Chhungte had prepared a scrumptious lunch that perfectly catered to our Mizo tastebuds. It was a culinary masterpiece that transformed the mundane airplane food into a mouthwatering feast. What made the experience even more special was that every announcement resonated through the cabin in the melodious Mizo language, creating a sense of cultural pride and belonging.
Throughout the journey, we indulged in succulent chicken and crispy fried pork, savouring each bite as the flavours danced on our tongues. However, amidst the gastronomic delight, our hearts went out to Mr. Vasuvedan, the joint secretary of the Government of India. Being a pure vegetarian, he unfortunately had no options to satiate his appetite. It was a pity to witness him enduring hunger throughout the day.
Embarking on this extraordinary VIP flight was an experience like no other. From the esteemed presence of VIP Pu Lal Thanhawla, a beloved figure among the Mizo community, to the culinary genius of a Mizo chef Rokunga Chhungte, who delighted our palates with exquisite flavours, and a Mizo pilot-in-command Wg Cdr J Lalhmingliana.
The enchantment continued as the melodic tones of the Mizo language graced the airwaves, with every announcement resonating with familiarity and warmth. And oh, the laughter that filled the cabin! Countless Mizo jokes and anecdotes brought smiles to our faces, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and shared joy throughout the journey. Every aspect of this flight emanated the vibrant spirit of the Mizo people.
In the annals of aviation history, there may never be another flight quite like this, one that can be rightfully called the Mizo Hnam Flight. It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of this extraordinary journey, leaving us with cherished memories that will forever hold a special place in our hearts.
During our flight, we encountered numerous turbulent clouds, prompting us to maneuver around them repeatedly. Unfortunately, this led to a higher consumption of aviation turbine fuel compared to a smooth-weather journey. As we approached Varanasi, we faced unfavorable conditions, necessitating a change in our flight schedule. We made the decision to refuel at Patna airport, where we safely landed and took off again after approximately an hour, continuing our journey towards Silchar.
After enduring inclement weather for a considerable duration, our perseverance paid off as we finally caught sight of the sun upon reaching Kishanganj in West Bengal.
As the weather cleared up, I decided to give Pu Rokamlova and Pu Lalkhama the esteemed honour of taking control of the plane for a brief period. It was a sight to behold! In the midst of their aviation adventure, Pu Lalkhama turned to me with a mischievous grin and said, “Pu Hming, piloting a plane is such a breeze! All you have to do is wiggle your hands and feet ever so slightly, and occasionally exchange pleasantries with the land.” Oh, the simplicity of it all! Little did they know, their nonchalant description of flying had me chuckling throughout the journey.
With great caution, I successfully navigated our way through the treacherous cumulonimbus clouds, finally arriving at Haflong. However, our plans took an unexpected turn as Silchar Airport was shrouded in a thick blanket of low clouds. The Control Tower relayed the message: “Due to rain, poor visibility, and low clouds, landing not possible. Divert to Agartala.”
Nevertheless, the need to touch down at Silchar was paramount. I calmly responded, “”Will make one attempt, if unable to land, will divert to either Agartala or Gauhati.” Undeterred, I meticulously executed a non-directional beacon letdown, utilising the instrument approach technique. And to our sheer amazement, our aircraft gracefully touched down at Silchar Airport right on the dot at 3:30 PM.
Remarkably, all flights in the Northeastern sector (Gauhati, Agartala, Shillong, Tezpur, Imphal, and Silchar) were cancelled due to inclement weather. Our safe landing amidst such adversities truly felt like a miracle.
So, what I called as “Mizo Hnam Flight” (Victor Tango Echo Hotel Lima) triumphantly descended upon Kumbhirgram Airport in Silchar, precisely at 3:30 PM on that momentous day of July 2, 1986. It was an occasion unlike any other in the annals of Mizo history, a flight of such paramount significance that its importance may seldom be surpassed in the years to come.