About 3 years ago, I think, I had a chance to meet an officer from a lesser known aerobatics team, based in Dabolim, Goa. I had always thought that The Surya Kiran were the only aerobatics team but that the Navy had one too was news to me. They are aptly called Sagar Pawan (The breeze of the sea). A few days back, my family had seen these aircrafts do a fly-by over Dabolim while the Mig-29ks were being inducted in the Navy.

While interacting with the officer that very evening in Dabolim air base, I told him how I was always thrilled to see Surya Kiran’s perform. At the end of our meeting, the man gave me something I would cherish all my life — a poster of the Surya Kirans doing a fly-by over the magnificent Taj Mahal, autographed by each member of the aerobatics team.

Sagar Pawan use the HJT-16 Kiran aircraft — the same aircrafts that Surya Kirans are comprised of. While Surya Kirans are 12 units strong, the Sagar Pawans have only four aircrafts. Understandably, the aerial maneuvers that the team can perform are very limited.

Today, during an airshow in Hyderabad, one of the four aircrafts went down. Both the pilots were killed.

I have forgotten the name of the officer I had interacted with. I hope that he is well. We stayed in the same colony, for my father retired from the Navy. It is certain that we must have crossed paths more than once.

Aerobatic pilots are a different breed. What differentiates them from their counterparts in the armed forces is that their lives are defined by a relentless passion to fly. These pilots are the best of the best. Their duty does not call upon to risk their lives for the maneuvers they perform but still they do it, again and again, day after day. I do understand that some of it is passion but I have no words to explain what calls upon them then, that makes them do it. It is some degree of madness and these aviators are lucky to possess it. Or maybe lucky to be possessed by this madness. If you have ever seen an aerobatic team perform, maybe, only then the intensity of this can be understood.

In the end the truth is this — all said and done, the country has just been deprived of two of its finest aviators. I would like to salute Pilot Commander Suresh Kumar Maurya and Co-Pilot Lt. Cdr Rahul Nair. We may have crossed paths — I can’t say but I can guarantee that there would have been no other way you would have chosen to go.

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