Captain Deepak Sathe, the pilot of the Air India Express flight, was among the 18 people who died after the plane crashed at Kerala’s Kozhikode airport on Friday (August 8).
Sathe (58) was a former Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and had served at the force’s flight testing establishment.
He was an alumnus of the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune. “Captain Deepak V Sathe was from 58th course of National Defence Academy, Pune. He was from Juliet Squadron,” said Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (Retired).
“Sathe passed out from Air Force Academy with Sword of Honour in June 1981 and was a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force,” he added.
Sathe was also an excellent squash player, he reminisced.
Captain Deepak Sathe had also survived an air crash in the early 1990s when he was in the Air Force and was hospitalised for six months, his cousin, Nilesh Sathe said.
Sathe had suffered multiple injuries on his skull in that incident, but due to his strong will power and passion he cleared the test and started flying again, he added.
“He survived in air crash in early nineties when he was in the Air Force. He was hospitalised for 6 months for multiple skull injuries and nobody thought that he would fly again. But his strong will power and love for flying made him clear the test again. It was a miracle,” he said.
His cousin, who is an Advisor of Finance at the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), said in a Facebook post, “It’s hard to believe that Deepak Sathe, my friend more than my cousin, is no more. He was pilot of Air India Express carrying passengers from Dubai in Vande Bharat Mission, which skidded off the runway at Kozhikode International Airport yesterday night.
“Deepak was an experienced aerial operator with 36 years of flying experience… When I asked him about the Vande Bharat Mission, he was proud of bringing back our countrymen from Arab countries. I asked him, Deepak, do you carry empty aircraft since those countries are not allowing entry of passengers? He had replied, Oh, No. We carry fruits, vegetables, medicines etc to these countries and never the aircraft flies to these countries empty. That was my last conversation with him,” he said.
Reports showed that Sathe was not inexperienced in landing on a tabletop runway, especially the one in Kozhikode, since he had flown to the city many times.
Records proved that he attempted to land the aircraft several times on Friday. Due to heavy rains, he steered the aircraft around the airport twice before managing to touch down. However, the aircraft skidded off the runway due to hydroplaning — when a layer of water forms on the surface, reducing friction with the brakes of a vehicle.
The aircraft then fell into a valley 35 feet below and split into two.
The Vande Bharat flight had 191 people on board.
According to his cousin, Captain Sathe is survived by his wife and two sons, both pass-outs of IIT Bombay.
Sathe’s wife and their elder son, who lives in Bengaluru, have already reached Kerala, Nagpal said, adding that the mortal remains of the deceased pilot was brought back to the city for the last rites.
Meanwhile, Air India sources said the airline was making arrangements to bring Sathe’s younger son, who is based in the US, back to the country.