In December 2019, the world was disrupted by the news of a new strain of virus known as the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), taking the lives of many in China. Wuhan, the capital of Central China’s Hubei province is said to be the place where the outbreak started. The city went on lockdown as the disease spread rapidly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11 declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, pointing to the over 118,000 cases the corona virus illness in over 110 countries and territories around the world and the sustained risk of further global spread.
Most countries have suspended all inbound international passenger flights and initiated air evacuation (repatriation) throughout the world. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on April 14 called on countries to grant speedy authorization and access for repatriation flights.
When thousands of Indians were stuck in Kuwait during the Gulf war in 1990’s, the Government of India executed the biggest air evacuation mission ever. The operation continued for almost two months and managed to airlift over 1,70,000 Indians and named as world’s largest air evacuation mission in history. This mission is similar to the type of air evacuation which is presently being carried out due to the COVID-19 effect. Here is all you need to know about the amazing effort!
During the Gulf war in 1990, when Saddam Hussain attacked Kuwait, the Iraqis took over the city in a few hours leaving the entire country in a state of terror. This included the fairly significant Indian community there as well. While the Kuwaiti royal family escaped to Saudi Arabia, the general population suffered great tragedies and loss. The responsibility came on the Indian government to safely evacuate the Indian community from Kuwait and hence, the largest air evacuation mission took shape.
To Evacuate the Indian community from Kuwait was not an easy task. Most of the People were not ready to leave behind everything they had spent their entire lives earning in Kuwait. They underestimated the gravity of the situation and were reluctant to leave their well-settled lives. Most of people living there did not have valid travel papers as they had handed them over to their employers who were either missing or dead.
Meanwhile, another problem was rising up. One set of Air India crew was stranded in Kuwait, having flown in an earlier flight. The Air India pilots and staff threatened that unless we got this crew out, they would ground the flights. The threat was indeed serious.
According to the Ministry of Overseas Indians (MOIA) annual report 2012-13, there are over 25 million overseas Indians across the globe and whenever the need arises, it is the government’s responsibility to bring back the country’s citizens safely. Not only just the evacuation during the Gulf War, but Indian government has also successfully executed many such missions. It was decided that the Foreign Minister should go to Baghdad and Kuwait and urgently arrange the repatriation of Indian nationals.
Also, Indian people took shelter in various schools and other buildings in various parts of Amman. They had to travel from various places to the Amman airport. It could not be predicted when these people would arrive and due to this, flights got delayed a lot. The crew had to stay on duty for a much longer time than the stipulated duty hours which created a lot of tiffs.
Indian government officials went to Kuwait to meet Saddam Hussain and get him on board the arranged repatriation of Indian nationals.
“We conveyed our official viewpoint and also our plans to evacuate our nationals. He listened to our views and repeated his known position, and agreed to facilitate the repatriation of our nationals.
As the help reached on August 14 (12 days after the invasion had taken place), Indian citizens were angry as they were expecting a quicker intervention by the Indian government. But, the then Foreign Minister quickly brought the crowd under control and in no time had them shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai,” as mentioned by a source.
Initially, a few military aircrafts were arranged to evacuate the elderly, women, and children. But due to a lengthy air space clearance procedure, this did not seem like a feasible solution. So the government turned to Air India for assistance.
Air India might be largely known today for delayed flights and poor service. But did you know that the largest air evacuation in the history of mankind was executed by the much aligned national airline of India? In 1990, the Indian government airlifted over 1,70,000 Indians from Kuwait with help of 488 flights in just 59 days.
Air India entered into Guinness Book of World Records for the civil airline that had evacuated the most people till date.
The Indian Air Force deployed its IL 76 aircraft for a steady communication link between Kuwait and Delhi government officials. The situation was severe and required immediate help and attention. The Kerala government came forward and dispatched food items for the Indian nationals in Kuwait.
There were far more people to be evacuated than expected. But, the coordination and team work of the people on the mission managed to evacuate all the Indian nationals out of the country. There was also a Pakistani Airline crew stranded in Kuwait and they wished to be evacuated by Indian aircrafts. On humanitarian grounds, the Indian officials agreed.
The successful operation that started on August 14, 1990, continued for almost 2 months and created history, finally accomplished on October 11.
The Indian government proved that it leaves no stone unturned in bringing back its people safely to the country in times of distress anywhere in the world. Kudos, to all the heroes who have been showing immense courage and humanity in the toughest of times.