NEW DELHI: It may have been after midnight when the Chennai-Delhi flight came to a stop at the tarmac but there was no scramble to get bags from the overhead bin or rush towards the exit because all eyes were focused on one couple -- the parents of IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman.
The parents of Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman were in for a surprise on Friday while they were travelling to receive their son.
According to videos uploaded on social media, the couple were given a standing ovation by the co-passengers who also stood aside to allow them to exit the aircraft before anybody else.
Several passengers, overwhelmed by emotion, even touched the feet of the couple — Retd Air Marshal S Varthaman and Shobha Varthaman, a doctor. Every passenger however, lauded Abhinandan’s valour and said they were proud of him.
They left for Amritsar soon after landing in Delhi. Abhinandan arrived at the Attari border, escorted by Pakistani soldiers late on Friday evening.
The pilot’s return was reportedly delayed because of the documentation process.
He shot down the plane before his own went down, forcing him to eject. He fell into Pakistani territory.
On Thursday Khan announced that he would be released, signalling a de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan. Abhinandan's family has served the Indian Air Force for generations, since the second World War.
Air Marshal S Varthaman, a recipient of several honours, including a Param Vishisht Seva Medal, said in a message, "Abhi is alive, not injured, sound in mind, just look at the way he talked so bravely. A true soldier. We are so proud of him".
Abhinandan was shot down during a dogfight with Pakistan Air Force fighters who had crossed the Indian border reportedly in order to strike several military targets.
(With inputs from PTI)