“Somewhere down the line, I must have done something good, but I can’t recall anything of the sort. Another Guardian Angel. As determined from my log book, the date was August 09, 1971. I had finished my Marut Conversion syllabus and was briefed by Sqn Ldr Pete Gaynor, for a handling sortie – single engine, aeros etc.
All was absolutely normal, there was not the slightest problem with the aircraft, I taxied out and it was to the runway opposite the palace with the ATC on my left – can’t recall the runway orientation. After vital actions and tyre check, I asked for line up, followed by permission to take off. Granted. I opened up both engines to the gate, all parameters A – OK and commenced my roll.
I must have been lumbering on at around 90 knots, approaching the runway crossing point when I saw a jeep very close to the runway and beyond the normal holding position. Then I saw someone in uniform frantically signaling to me – it was Sqn Ldr Shashi Ramdas, and because it was him, I felt that there may be something wrong and I abandoned take off. I informed ATC and told them I was backtracking and would switch off at ORP. No response, at least not one I could hear. I opened the canopy and was back tracking at slower than normal speed. Shashi Sir was there, as well as a Hunter trainer, followed by two other HF’s parallel to me. I saw a jeep coming up on my left with Shashi Sir indicating frantically with the cut throat sign to switch off. What the hell was all the panic about? I stopped on the center line and got up on the seat to make it safe. God, my left engine was on fire and the first thought that came to my mind was ‘you’re in tish’ – not again! I had not done anything wrong.
Ever tried jumping down from an HF from cockpit height – it’s a long way down. Fire tenders and ambulance were already there and Shashi Sir asked me to get into the jeep, followed by all the other aircraft that had taxied out – no more flying for the day. As always they say the ‘wife is always the last to know’ and the AF equivalent of that is “what the ‘f’ did you do?” – and that was the first question asked to me. By then the other pilots had returned and were also boiling mad at me for not following instructions. What instructions, the last R/T transmission I received was ATC clearing me for take-off.
Later on, it was revealed that a fractured fuel line had caused the fire and since the R/T TX – RX runs down the spine of the aircraft, the cables had burnt and hence my deafness to all frantic calls to abandon take-off, by ATC and all other aircraft.
Had it not been for Shashi Sir, I would not have firstly abandoned take-off, but his credibility was phenomenal and there must have been a reason for his dramatics. Had he not been waiting to cross the R/W at that moment, I would have been another unresolved statistic.
The James Bond saying goes ‘once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, third time is enemy action’. Guardian Angels have come to my rescue many times (mostly in the air) and I keep asking God for my purpose of being – so far no response! They say ‘God’s delays are not HIS denials’ – and I don’t have much choice but to wait.