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Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon: A Legacy of Courage in the Indian Air Force

They conquer the blue skies and the blazing stars and rule our hearts. The Indian Air Force has been safeguarding our motherland from the heavens since its inception. They consider it glorious to lay down their lives to protect their native land. The Flying Hero of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon, was born on 17 July 1945 in the Ludhiana district of Punjab. Nirmal Jit Singh’s father was also an ex-Indian Air Force pilot, which motivated him to continue the family tradition of serving the country. On 4 June 1967, he was commissioned into the Indian Air Force.

During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was deployed at the Srinagar airbase with the No. 18 squadron, better known as the Flying Bullets of the Indian Air Force. On 14 December 1971, two days before the Indo-Pak war ended, the airfield at Srinagar was attacked by the Pakistan Air Force. A wave of six enemy Sabre aircraft of the PAF was commissioned to bomb the Kashmir valley. Undeterred by the intense attack and facing all the odds against him, as soon as his leader Flight Lieutenant Ghumman took off, Flying Officer Sekhon rolled for take-off No.2 in a two Gnat formation. Sensing the grave danger pondering over his country, the first aircraft took off in less than 20 seconds, and Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was in the skies in no time. It was a six versus one fight with four Pakistani aircraft overhead and two aircraft as an emergency backup at a higher altitude. Due to an international agreement in 1948, no defense aircraft could be commissioned at Srinagar. Resultantly, Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was unfamiliar with and unaware of Srinagar’s high altitude, climate and terrain.

In the ensuing assault, he immediately hit one of the Pakistani Sabre aircraft directly. Sensing the danger, the other aircraft immediately sent an SOS signal to the other two flying in the high altitudes, which were sent as emergency backups. In the air fight that followed, Sekhon set another Sabre aircraft ablaze. Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was soon outnumbered and advised to return to the airbase. Sekhon’s aircraft was hit by the Sabre aircraft. Because of the hit, his aircraft descended, and the ejection proved futile. The debris of the aircraft was found in a gorge. Despite many search operations, Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon’s body could not be found.

The Flying Officer made an unparalleled sacrifice that changed the perception of the entire world towards the Indian Air Force. He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military decoration, posthumously for his heroic and impregnable courage. Even today, his brave show gives goosebumps to our countrymen. An inspiration for many youngsters who want to join the Indian Air Force, Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon displayed the utmost bravery and patriotism. With supreme gallantry and the utmost dauntlessness, Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon touched the skies with glory. To date, he remains the only member of the Indian Air Force to the awarded the Param Vir Chakra.

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3. Param Vir Chakra Awardees – Ministry of Defence, India
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