KOLKATA: A 24-year-old pilot from New Town has rescued more than 800 Indian students from war-racked Ukraine’s Polish and Hungarian borders. A proud member of Operation Ganga, Mahasweta Chakraborty flew six evacuation flights — four from Poland and two from Hungary — between February 27 and March 7.
“It was the experience of a lifetime, rescuing those students in their late teens and early twenties, many of whom had fallen sick and had traumatizing tales of survival,” says Chakraborty, who has been flying with a private Indian carrier for the past four years. “I salute their fighting spirit and am extremely proud of having played my part in their journey back home.”
India operated 77 evacuation flights. While most flights were operated by Air India, other airlines like IndiGo and SpiceJet, too, lent their services, along with the Indian Army.
“I got a call late at night from my airline and was told that I was chosen for the rescue,” Chakraborty says. “I packed in two hours and left. I flew to Istanbul, two and a half hours from Poland, from where we were instructed to operate the rescue.”
The Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi graduate says her own physical exhaustion, after flying an Airbus A 320 for 13-14 hours a day, hardly registered as the students re-lived their horror. “Most of them looked drained. We offered them food and beverages, but they didn’t even want to drink water. All they wanted was to go home,” Chakraborty says.
“On one of the flights, a 21-year-old girl started having fits from extreme stress before we could fly. Thankfully, almost all the passengers on board were junior doctors, who treated and pacified her for the rest of the journey. But the moment I will never forget was when she clutched my hand in a semi-conscious state and asked me to simply take me to her mother,” Chakraborty says, sitting in her New Town apartment.
An alumna of Auxilium Convent, Chakraborty always wanted to be a pilot and says she is happy to have been a part of two major emergency operations – Operation Ganga now and Vande Bharat during the initial phases of Covid-19.
During the pandemic, she has also flown in oxygen contractor machines from abroad and transported vaccines to Kolkata and other airports from Pune.
“I am always thankful for the contribution I could make to society. But the real heroes are these young students who fought hunger, thirst, death threats, extreme weather and career uncertainty in their bid to escape the war-torn country. I doubt if I could have made it this far had I been in their situation,” she says.