As India waited for the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who is in Pakistan’s custody, exclusive details emerged on the unprecedented air combat operation along the Line of Control, where a package of 24 Pakistani aircraft were intercepted by eight IAF fighters, which included a MiG 21 Bison he was piloting.
The Wing Commander was in hot pursuit of a Pakistani F-16 jet, which he engaged with an R-73 air-to-air missile. The state-of-the-art Pakistani fighter, thought to be a two-seater variant of the jet, was shot down. Both pilots were seen parachuting down on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.
NDTV has learnt that the Pakistani Air Force strike package included eight F-16s, four Mirage-3 aircraft, four Chinese made JF-17 “Thunder” fighter.
Other aircraft in the formation were escort fighters to protect the Pakistan strike formation from any IAF retaliation. The large Pakistani attack formation was detected at 9.45 am, when they came within 10 km of the Line of Control.
A small number of these fighters then proceeded to cross the Line of Control, when they were intercepted by eight IAF jets, which included four Sukhoi 30s, two upgraded Mirage 2000s and two MiG 21 Bisons.
The Air Force fighters gave chase to the Pakistani jets on their return leg after they had dropped a handful of laser-guided bombs that narrowly missed their military targets along the Line of Control.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was in hot pursuit of a Pakistani F-16, which his radar had locked onto.
Despite being warned by other aircraft in the formation about the presence of Pakistani fighters, he pushed home his attack and fired an R-73 air-to-air missile.
At this stage of the air-to-air encounter, the pilot’s wingman was also exposed and vulnerable.
Two missiles were fired by Pakistani F-16s. One of them, an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) struck his aircraft, while another missed his wingman.
The Wing Commander was forced to eject and landed into the Pakistani side of Line of Control, where he was captured. Pakistan has announced that he will be released tomorrow.
Early on Wednesday, Pakistan circulated videos of the pilot, where he was seen being interrogated — wounded, tied up and blindfolded. The clips were, however, taken off once New Delhi accused Pakistan of violating the Geneva Convention for prisoners. A video circulated later showed the pilot sipping tea, saying he was being ‘well looked after” by officers of the Pakistani army.