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Bhoja Air 213: remembering the pilot

May 04, 2012

AFTER spending years in the PAF College, Sargodha, I exchanged its horrors for the terrors of the PAF Academy, Risalpur, entering as a bruised junior cadet.

As a cadet, there are many avenues to be fearful of, from the education directorate to the base mess. However, topping this list was flight training, whose mere thought would reduce us to a perspiring heap.

Flight training was divided into BFT Basic and PFT Primary. The highest honour was especially reserved for those who graduated from the latter, for the instructors of that level were supra human figures, who could not be pleased with the smoothest of take-offs or the gentlest of landings.

My first thought upon seeing Noorullah Afridi (the captain of the ill-fated Bhoja Air flight 213) was that what this man spoke would be translated into action. His complexion was ruddy, glowing, with blonde hair covering his head. He had an imposing aura, a sense of presence that stood out among other instructors, which is saying something. He was a hard taskmaster, demanding the best from us, and as a professional and human being he was second to none.

This is attested by the fact that every single cadet in that academy fervently wished to be paired under him for flight training. To the best of my knowledge, not a single student under his tutelage failed or was suspended from flying.

In his spare time, he would volunteer to train students of other squadrons who had failed in one of their missions. This was my personal experience too, although my flying abilities were beyond anyone’s repair.

My most endearing memory of Sir Noorullah was his humility and friendliness towards junior officers, unlike other seniors whose treatment towards us could be classified at the lowest tenth on a ten scale.

His mission was simple: nobody should be suspended as the Air Force had invested hugely in cadets. He was a patriot, honest, upright, pious, daring, and a boost of confidence for all of us.

Out of respect for the families of the passengers and crew on that flight, I request everyone not to blindly speculate as to the cause(s) of the crash, until the inquiry releases its finding. The media, especially, should stop with the sensationalism and insensitivity shown in its coverage and analysis of the crash.

Let us pray for the souls of the deceased, wish the best to their families, and hope that the lessons from this incident are learned and acted upon.