New Delhi: Nearly three decades ago, 10 passengers aboard a cable car dangling at a height of 1,300 feet and a daredevil Para commando found themselves at the centre of a daring rescue operation, which showed the possibilities of integration within the forces.
In October 1992, Colonel Ivan Joseph Crasto (Retd), who was then a major in the Indian Army, undertook the dangerous operation — along with his colleagues and some top helicopter pilots of the Indian Air Force — to rescue the passengers in Parwanoo, around 35 km from Chandigarh.
The officer was lowered into the cable car from a hovering helicopter to rescue the passengers, who were stuck inside the dangling car, swinging between life and death.
The successful 48-hour operation was carried out jointly by the Army and the IAF. Col Crasto was awarded the Kirti Chakra for the operation.
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Timber Trail rescue operation
The Timber Trail resort nestled in the Shivalik hills in Himachal Pradesh’s Parwanoo has been a big draw for tourists since the early 1980s. And the main attraction there since 1988 is a cable car ride that ferries people from the resort’s one property along the Chandigarh-Shimla highway to another located 1.8 km away on a hill top at 5,000 ft above the sea level.
On 13 October 1992, the cable car ferrying around 10 tourists to the hill property broke down, leaving the scared passengers suspended at a height of 1,300 ft.
After an initial recce later that day, the Army and the IAF began a joint operation to rescue the stranded tourists on 14 October.
An Mi-17 helicopter was pressed into action and Col Crasto was winched down from the chopper atop the dangling cable car in the fifth attempt.
The officer entered the cable car and had the tourists winched up one after the other. The team had been able to rescue only half of the tourists by the evening when the operation had to be discontinued.
Col Crasto, however, did not go back. He stayed in the cable car, giving company to the rest of the occupants still stranded.
“He stayed back in the cable car, even sang songs to them to ensure they didn’t panic and their morale remained high,” said a senior Army officer who knows Crasto closely.
The operation resumed the next day and Col Crasto winched up the rest of the tourists. He left the cable car only after all the tourists had been rescued.
Who is Crasto?
The decorated officer from a family of Navy personnel, Crasto was commissioned into 1 Para (SF) in 1978. He went on to command the 21 Para (SF), and also served in the Army for over two decades in a variety of important appointments, including the Directorate of Military Operations.
Originally from Goa, Crasto is now settled in Sydney, Australia, where he teaches Maths in a local school.
The Army officer quoted above said Col Crasto was looked up to as a hero by his juniors. “He was an extremely dedicated professional, who was not just well versed with the nuts and bolts of things, but also the larger strategy,” the officer said.
He was extremely well-read and could speak on a variety of issues, the officer added.
Synergy on display
The Army officer quoted above told ThePrint that Col Crasto was chosen to execute the difficult rescue operation since he had been a skydiver. He was accompanied by the then Commanding Officer of 1 Para, Col P.C. Bhardwaj (a Lt. Gen. who retired as the vice chief of Army staff), and Havildar Krishan Kumar (now a retired subedar).
From the IAF, helicopter pilots Group Captain Subhash Chander (retd, then a wing commander) and Group Captain Paritosh Upadhyay (retd, then a flight lieutenant) were involved in the operation. Former IAF chief F.H. Major, who was then a group captain, coordinated and supervised the operations and flew the recce sorties.
“It required tremendous skill and precision for the IAF pilots to ensure that they kept hovering at the specific point, despite the cable car wires being so close to the chopper,” the officer quoted above said.
The operation demonstrated an excellent jointness and integration between the Army and IAF, which is what the defence forces are working on by way of establishing theatre commands, said the officer.
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