For years, I have been hearing and reading stories of a captured Indian Army Helicopter on public display in Gilgit, Baltistan (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). PakDef reported it as an Alouette III. But no pictures had emerged of it - till today when I stumbled on this photo by Ali Hameed on Webshots.
Ah .. the wonders of the Internet (for the umpteenth time).
It certainly is an Alouette - or a Chetak as we call it on our side of the border. Unfortunately trying to find out its provenance and identity is going to be an uphill task. The Helicopter is painted in non-standard Indian colors - There is no roundel or fin flash to be seen anywhere, let along the familiar 'Z' serial in white. The helicopter has the letters INDIAN ARMY painted on it along with the Indian tri color and rather interestingly, the Corps badge of XV Corps "Chinars" stationed in Srinagar.
Making the assumption that this is indeed an Indian helicopter (and that the Pakistanis are not playing a joke on us by painting one of their own Alouette IIIs in Indian colors) - The obvious question arises - how did it land up in Gilgit?
Over the years, several helicopters have been lost in and around Siachen. In the early years of Op Meghdoot, the missions were flown by Chetaks and only later were they replaced by the Cheetahs. Several could have been lost to the weather and elements over the initial years - and there is a high chance that the Pakistanis managed to recover one of the wrecks and ship it back to Gilgit. Its not implausible - just a couple of years ago a Cheetah of 114 HU overshot the landing pad at a forward post and rolled over into a valley killing the hapless pilot and co-pilot. The help of the Pakistanis was sought in recovering the crew member remains as the area were the wreck was now under Pakistani control. Several early Gallantry award citations from Siachen also talk about Helicopters crashing and abandoned in forward areas , or engines being removed out of crashed wrecks (Corporal C G Soman's Shaurya Chakra was on these lines).
Perhaps this was an Indian Army helicopter lost in the LoC area , outside of Siachen. Perhaps the helicopter was one lost in operations before Siachen came into its own? Whichever it may be, the fact the helicopter was transported to Gilgit suggests that it was in a more friendly 'recoverable' terrain than the hostile altitude of Siachen.
Whether the helicopter came from Siachen or outside, whether it was IAF or IA, one thing I can claim for sure is that the helicopter was surely built up from a crashed wreck. There are no remnants of the Turboshaft engine (suggesting salvage), the main rotor or the tail rotor blades - these possibly lost in a crash . And the front portion of the crew cabin, the plexiglass 'glass house' has been rebuilt from scratch (impact with the ground?)
My notes and records are not complete about Indian Army Chetak crashes - but I am sure some light will surface in due course of time. It is unfortunate that the Pakistanis had not retained the original markings of the aircraft - a serial number or the original paint scheme with stenciling would definitely have helped establish its identity.
Perhaps one of the Crazy brits will go around peeking for its construction number? I wish!