Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Remembering Two Deceased Great Uncles and Their Air India Connections!

An aircraft has been a real fascination to me right from my childhood. It remains so even now. Becoming a pilot was one of my childhood dreams. Unfortunately, it did not materialize. Sitting by the window seat of a commercial aircraft and viewing the aerial geography still remains as a fascination for me.

In continuation to what I wrote yesterday, I was thinking of writing something more elaborating our problems with good governance.

I changed that idea because a cousin sister of mine reminded me of a long forgotten tragic incident of an air crash  by sending a WhatsApp link to a blog that brought back much details of those things forgotten.

The blog described the details of the long forgotten Air India DC-3 Dakota Plane crash in the Nilgiri mountain ranges of South India that happened in December 1950. That was the first year of existence of the independent Indian Republic!

An Air India DC-3 Dakota Aircraft
Similar to the one which crashed in the Nilgiris in 1950

It was some information I had been seeking since my childhood, but couldn't. My cousin, Saro and the blog writer, Ms.Nina Varghese, deserved to be thanked for the unexpected help in this context. It helped me to brush up some past memories and to know more. Google helped to find another blog that provided some more info.

Now coming to the reasons of my interest in this. There are more than one reasons. Late, Mr.C.Luke, who happened to be last listed passenger of this ill-fated Air India DC-3 Dakota flight was my mother's uncle (husband of my grandmother's younger sister, whom we used to call as Kundara Ammachi.). During my childhood, it was usual for my mother and grandmother to take me with them to their home at Kundara . The photograph of the deceased young head of the family adored the front wall and the handsome face made a long imprint in my young mind. This widowed aunt used to be a qualified nurse who in those days earned a reputation as a trusted registered medical practitioner. I used to enjoy the visits to the Kundara home during those days because of the company I used to get from my mother's cousins who were all only a couple of years elder to me.

Late Mr C.Luke (Source: Family Photo Albums)

Whatever the little I had known about this uncle, Luke, was from my mother, late Mrs.Chinnamma Mathew. From her, I had learnt that this uncle of hers who met his untimely death in the air crash few years before my birth was a promising businessman and entrepreneur. The air mishap had ruined all those business and much of the family's fortunes!

In those days, there was not much of facilities for me to know more about airplanes, the flying machines about which I used to be in my childhood fantasies. In the late Fifties and the Sixties, I remember running after to scan the skies in search to have a glimpse of the aircraft that made much noise from up in the sky, only to be contented with the small silvery image that looked some thing like a small cross and disappeared as fast as it appeared.

As a child I had some rare opportunities to view some small airplanes including an opportunity to sit in the pilots seat inside a small flying club machine kept in the hangar at the small aerodrome of Trivandrum of Nineteen fifties. All these enhanced my curiosity to know more about airplanes and the fellows who flew these marvelous flying machines of modern times.

My fascination with the subject prompted my father, late Shri T.M.Mathew, to reveal a surprising truth to me. It was about his uncle (his mother's younger brother) late, Mr.K.M.Daniel (Kulanjikombil-Kumplampoika).I was much thrilled to learn that this uncle was then a serving pilot of Air India of those days. I remember my father once making a plan to take me to Kochi where he lived in those days and meet this uncle. Somehow this never happened and it remained as a disappointment for me.

A few years later, in the early years of the Nineteen sixties, some unfortunate incidents happened in the glamorous pilot life of my great uncle. He lost his job at the fag end of his flying career. A couple of years later, circumstances and fate played the cruel joke in his life that he became a resident of my own home for about three years.

Dani Appachan, we called him fondly so, became a close companion and an amazing well wisher of mine in those days when I was a high school student. Every night we used to spend hours together discussing about his past experiences first as a high school teacher, then as a World War-2 veteran of the Royal Air Force and later as a commercial pilot of Air India. I used to listen to his world trotting stories with eyes and ears fully opened!

Without actually seeing an big aircraft, I learnt much about those from this pilot uncle and in my fantasies I piloted those wonder machines! While I nursed the fantasies of flying, I also kept the hidden fear of air accidents which were not uncommon in those days. The guidance of my pilot uncle could have helped me to pursue a flying career. But to be honest, the hidden fear of air accidents prevented me from doing so! Perhaps the thoughts about the unfortunate fate of Luke uncle pulled me back!

It was Dani uncle who gave me much information about the unpredictable weather conditions that among various other things caused air accidents. I still remember him explaining how an air craft dropped like a stone when it happened to enter what is known as air pockets, the nightmares of pilots! ( Incidentally I experienced the horror of one my self some time in the Nineteen nineties while on board an Indian Airlines Boeing 720 from New Delhi to Raipur. Sitting by the window, I watched the plane losing height suddenly and then stopping  abruptly causing a few of the luggage doors getting opened to throw some of the luggage out!)


Air travel has improved much and the facilities both at the airports and the commercial air crafts have enhanced even in this country. Air travel is no more considered as a risky proposition! It is much safer than many other modes of transport, thanks to the advancement in technology.

Yet, the pilots deserves to be admired for their skills for smoothly maneuvering those huge machines with the help of some on board instruments and the instructions from the air traffic controllers. The skills and dedication of the air craft maintenance engineers and technicians also need to be honored. Modern air travel is possible due to the coordinated efforts of several people!

Luke uncle and Dani uncle are no more in this world. But they were pioneers of Independent India. 

Like wise we are all destined to fade out from the face of this world.

Do we have some destinies beyond that? 

My curiosity has now shifted to that! Perhaps I would find more information to satisfy my quests!

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