An unfortunate Kiran trainer jet crash on August 22, 2011 also crushed the dreams of a brilliant flight cadet R.K Herojit Singh. The accident though wrecked his potential of becoming a fighter pilot, but little did anyone know that his determination and strong willed attitude will get him to IAF’s non-flying capacity despite of being confined to a wheelchair.
Herojit, rightly nicknamed Hero, hailed from Singjamei village in Manipur, did B.Tech (Computer technology) to join National Defence Academy (Pune). He was one of the best cadets in his batch, having been awarded the Academy Blazer for swimming, Sports Insignia for excellence in sports and won the silver medal for the best cadet in physical training (119 course), he also stood third in in flying through the basic stage at Air Force Academy (Hyderabad).
Seven years ago, in August, while returning to Hakimpet airbase around 5.10pm, an emergency in his cockpit during a Kiran solo sortie forced Herojit to eject. During his descent with the help of a parachute, ill-fatedly the force of ejection fractured his lumbar spine. The frightful spinal cord injury, ‘Paraplegia’, paralysed Hero down the waist.
Ejection is an action for pilots to get out of a crashing aircraft, but the process is difficult and dangerous that sometimes the force of getting thrown out affects their spine.
His dreams of becoming a pilot started to fade but Hero could not imagine being anywhere but IAF. His perseverance to join IAF even in a non-flying capacity was difficult as he was a flight cadet just four months short of commissioning.
His prayers were answered when he got an opportunity to present his case to Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne, Chief of the Air Staff. He considered this incident of a flying mishap that unfortunately cost big time to a young cadet with bright background and made a special request to defence Minister A.K. Antony for Herojit, which was accepted immediately.
The top officials in the air headquarters contemplated the situation and decided to consider Hero for the accounts branch. “I am better equipped to face all the hardships than ever before. I am not going to give up easily. I will once again prove myself in some other way,” the flight cadet told Mail Today after the government, allowed his commission into the Indian Air Force (IAF) as an accounts officer as a rare and extraordinary case.
The government has set an example by making way for Hero, who is perhaps the first wheelchair bound cadet to be commissioned by any of the armed forces in the world.
There are several other departments in the armed forces apart from the front, where disabled soldiers can be retrained for a different workplace instead of just getting moving them out completely.
The IAF initiated this cause even before the parliamentary approval to the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.