Family, friends and relatives of Captain Deepak V Sathe, the pilot who was killed in Friday’s Air India Express aircraft crash at Kozhikode International Airport, find it hard to believe their loss.
“It’s hard to believe that Deepak Sathe, my friend more than my cousin, is no more...” said a stunned relative Nilesh Sathe on his community’s social media post.
Nilesh described his cousin as an “experienced aerial operator with 36 years’ flying experience”, who passed the National Defence Academy, Pune, with flying colours by topping the 58th Course and was awarded the ‘Sword of Honour’.
His ex-colleagues said Captain Sathe also topped the Air Force Academy, Hyderabad, and was conferred the President’s Gold Medal and later served in the Indian Air Force for 21 years before joining as a commercial pilot with Air India in 2005.
Nilesh recalled how he spoke with Captain Sathe last week and found him “jovial as always”.
“When I asked him about the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’, he felt so proud of bringing back our countrymen from Arab countries,” said Nilesh.
When Nilesh queried whether Capt. Sathe flew empty aircraft since those countries are not allowing entry of passengers, Sathe had replied: “Oh, no. We carry fruits, vegetables, medicines, etc. to these countries and the aircraft never flies empty... That was my last conversation with him.”
A friend from Capt Sathe’s days at the private school, Cambrian Hall, Dehradun, Pradeep Singh Bisht, said since he hailed from an army family background, “Deepak was a ‘good fighter’ from his early days”.
“He always stood up for right causes, supported the truth and was never scared of calling a spade a spade... Academically, he was brilliant and harboured a deep passion for flying from his school days. His father, Brig. Vasant Sathe was posted at the IMA Dehradun for at least five years when Deepak and I became close friends,” Bisht told IANS from Dehradun.
Later, Bisht travelled the world as a merchant navy officer, while Capt. Sathe joined the NDA and achieved his childhood dream of becoming an Indian Air Force pilot, and post-retirement, with Air India.
“10 days back, when we last spoke, as always, he was very caring and concerned about everybody, spoke with my son at length, enquired about our old schoolmates, teachers, their well-being,” said Bisht.
Mumbai realtor Nitin Sunderji Shah who chatted with Capt. Sathe last week, said he sounded very concerned about “my family’s wellbeing in the Covid-19 crisis” and called the pandemic a big challenge before humanity.
“He died as he lived - for others... He gave his life to save the lives of the migrants arriving by that flight on Friday evening. I hope the government officially acknowledges Capt. Sathe’s unparalleled act of bravery and the supreme sacrifice for his country,” said an emotional Shah, his voice choking with emotion.
Nilesh Sathe recollected how Capt. Sathe had survived a crash in the early-90s when he was with the IAF, and was hospitalised for six months for multiple skull injuries, “and nobody thought that he will fly again”.
“But his strong willpower and love for flying made him clear the test again. It was a miracle,” he added.
Capt Sathe is survived by his wife Sushma and two sons - both IIT Bombay graduates. Elder son Shantanu, got married on March 8, a fortnight before the national lockdown started and currently is in the US, while younger son Dhananjay works for a firm in Bengaluru. Daughter Anjali lives in Mumbai.
The family lives in the posh Powai suburb of Andheri east where a pall of gloom descended in the area after the tragic news broke out late on Friday of the air tragedy which has claimed 18 lives so far.
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