Friday, 05 August 2005
On the morning of the 20st August 1971, a young Pilot Officer, Rashid Minhas, was due to take off in his T-33 as part of a routine training exercise. It was a "complete exercise", meaning his exercise would be unaccompanied.
Two of his colleagues had already had taken off, Minhas being the last to be given the go ahead. At 1126 Rashid Minhas had also received clearance for take off and so the 20 year old began taxiing into position. Before he was given final clearance for take off, he was given a signal indicating there was a mechanical error with the plane and that he must not take off. Puzzled, Minhas immediately stopped his plane, waiting for further instruction from the person who had given the signal. It was Safety Officier Muti-ur-Rehman, a senior pilot instructor who was standing by the tarmac at the time. He was several years Rashid's senior, and was someone whom Minhas held with deep respect. Minhas opened his cockpit in order to speak to the approaching Rehman. All of a sudden, Rehman pulled out a chloroform soaked handkerchief and held it over Minhas's mouth, rendering him unconscious.
Minhas was not aware that Muti-ur-Rehman was planning on defecting to Mukti Bahini, a terrorist organisation that was involved in targeting West Pakistani civilians living in East Pakistan. Rehman planned on taking over the plane, and flying it to Jodhpur, India where members of India's RAW would be able to covertly assist him in joining the Mukti Bahini. While little is known about what plans Rehman made in the time building up to his defection, it is likely the choice in hijacking Minhas' flight was premeditated. Rashid Minhas was the youngest and most inexperienced of his fellow Pilot Officers. Rashid was also known in the academy for his short size, and would have been no match in a struggle for his older assailant.
He gave instructions to a colleague of Bengali origin, telling him where he was planning on taking the plane, and also gave him instructions to escort his family to the Indian High Commission. Rehman's trust was misplaced as his confidant immediately informed his seniors of Rehman's defection attempt.
The plane finally took off at 1131, with Rehman at the controls and an unconscious Minhas, and at 1133 contact with the plane from the communication tower was lost.
The PAF, alarmed by the turn of events, feared the worse and immediately sent out planes looking for the hijacked T-33A. Radars also in operation trying to scan the location of the plane, but the experienced Rehman knew that flying below 30 feet would make him appear invisible on radar screens.
It was in this situation that Rashid Minhas regained consciousness. Little is known of what actually happened in that cockpit that day. Rehman perhaps had believed he could financially tempt Minhas into assisting with his defection, or he may have attempted to physically or emotionally intimidate the much younger Minhas, who was still partially under the influence of chloroform. Finally, Minhas always had the option to eject from the plane, saving his capture by the Indian forces, but at the expense of the plane. Minhas was also aware that the Indian border was approaching, and a decision had to be made soon.
The young Minhas, decided that allowing the defection of his plane would be unacceptable, and made a sacrifice of the highest kind. He used his trainee controls to crash his plane, knowing that due to its very low cruising height it would catch Rehman unprepared. The crash site of the T-33A was later found 40km from the Indian border, with both Rashid Minhas Shaheed and Muti-ur-Rehman dead.
Rashid Minhas Shaheed was posthumously awarded the Nishan-e-Haider in recognition for his bravery, and currently remains the youngest person to receive this award. The PAF base at which he was based was renamed in his honour.