KOCHI: The atmosphere was drenched in emotion. Sea Harrier fighters and Sea King helicopters took off the deck of INS Viraat, the aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy, for one final time on Thursday. They will not return to the familiar terrain from the Naval air station, Kochi. Reason: INS Viraat will be retiring after decommissioning refit at Cochin Shipyard.
It also marked the end of Sea Harrier era. Harriers, deployed on board Viraat, are capable of vertical take off and landing and now they will be used for training purpose like high speed track run. However, the Sea Kings will continue in service.
Viraat’s sailing to Kochi for the decommissioning refit is her last voyage on own power. “For the airmen, it was a sad moment as the carrier will no longer be operating aircraft from its deck. While the carrier is at sea, Sea Kings take off from the ship to search a few miles ahead to ensure there is no security threat in the course of the ship. The aircraft carrier, often termed Mother by aviators, in its hey days was a sight to the sore eyes of the aircrew who will be looking out for the welcoming lights or the bright white lines of the tram line on the airfield in the middle of the ocean after a tough mission hundreds of miles into the sea,” said naval officials.
The last Sea King that took off from the deck of Viraat was captained by Commander V M Akash with co-pilot Commander Nihal Sabnis, navigation instructor Lieutenant Commander S Omanakuttan and trainee Lieutenant Manoj Thakur on board. With 57 years of glorious service with two navies, the British-built aircraft carrier is the one of the longest serving warships in the world. Viraat was originally commissioned by the British Royal Navy on November 18, 1959. She was inducted to the Indian Navy in 1987 after nearly three decades of service with the Royal Navy.