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IAF pilots brave bullets to facilitate battle of ballots

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A file photo of Chetak light utility helicopter pressed into service during Lok Sabha polls.

NEW DELHI (PTI): The Indian Air Force (IAF) that conducted major air-lift operations for the Election Commission (EC) during the month-long Lok Sabha polls has come unscathed this time around, despite widespread violence in Maoist-infested and other troubled states.

The IAF, sources said was deployed in 15 states where the EC feared trouble, including the insurgency-hit Jammu and Kashmir and Maoist-infested Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

A total of 35 types of aircraft were pressed into service from 13 airbases around the country and these included two Il-76 heavylift transport aircraft, four mediumlift An-32s aircraft, 25 other mediumlift helicopters and four Chetak light utility helicopters.

But the IAF faced Maoist bullets only at Binagonda in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra bordering Chhattisgarh that left a helicopter damaged.

"No loss of life or injury to personnel was reported from the IAF's side this time around, unlike the round of Assembly elections in November last when it lost a pilot in Chhattisgarh," the sources said.

In that incident, a Mi-17 crew of Squadron Leader R Dhobhal and Flying Officer K Prakash were preparing to ferry poll officials and Electronic Voting Machines from Binagonda to Laheri in Maharashtra on April 16 when they came under attack from Maoists.

The IAF altogether undertook a total of 930 sorties and 780 hours were flown towards election task that included airlifting 6792 passengers, 137 tons of election material and 436 electronic voting machines. In an unprecedented airlift effort undertaken by the IAFs transport fleet, two IL-76 and four AN-32 airlifted 3234 central para military forces alone from Imphal to Kalaikunda in three days, from April 26-28, according to a release by the Ministry of Defence.

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