An IAF pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was captured by Pakistan after an air combat Wednesday during which the two sides said they shot down each other’s warplanes that followed an unsuccessful attempt to target Indian military installations in retaliatory strikes that sparked fears of war. India said it shot down an F-16 warplane of Pakistan while it lost a MiG 21 during the fierce engagement between the air forces of the two countries along the Line of Control (LoC).
But this not the first time Pakistan has captured an Indian Air Force Pilot. In 1999, at the peak of the Kargil War, a flight lieutenant, Kambampati Nachiketa, was captured by Pakistan. He was in Pakistani custody for eight days — a period of immense mental and physical torture for him.
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In an NDTV interview in 2016, the pilot said, “The torture was quite bad. There comes a point where you think ‘death is simpler’, but fortunately for me, the third-degree part, which is the last part, didn’t start for me.”
Nachiketa was captured by the Pakistani forces when the fighter plane he was flying developed engine failure and he had to eject from an altitude of 18,000 ft. Not only was Nachiketa captured, but India also lost another pilot — squadron leader Ajay Ahuja, who was looking for Nachiketa after he saw the flight lieutenant eject from the flight. Ahuja was shot down as a Pakistani missile hit his MiG 21 jet. Ajay Ahuja’s squadron was under the command of then Wing Commander BS Dhanoa, who happens to be the current chief of the Air Force.
Meanwhile, intense backdoor efforts by the Indian government and bowing to scrutiny from international media as well as the United Nations, Pakistan finally released Kambampati Nachiketa eight days later on June 3, 1999. He was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Pakistan and returned home via the Wagah border.