Indian Prime Minister Thanks Coronavirus Rescue Flight Crew

Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has issued letters of appreciation to the Air India staff who helped rescue Indian nationals stranded in Wuhan. Little did they know when they embarked on the rescue mission to bring home Indian citizens caught up in the coronavirus outbreak that their unselfish deed would be so highly regarded.

Air India Boeing 747-400 registration number VT-ESP
Air India rescued 654 people from Wuhan. Photo: Getty

As he landed the Air India Boeing 747-400 registration number VT-ESP, Captain Amitabh Singh described Wuhan as being a silent, eerie place with no human beings in sight.

Air India had little help from China

As one of the directors of operations at Air India, Singh was put in charge of planning and executing the rescue mission. When speaking about the two rescue flights while at an official ceremony, Singh told Indian website Quartz how the two rescue flights repatriated 647 Indians and seven Maldivians from the epicenter of the virus zone.

“We carried our own support system and had minimal support from China, as they themselves are busy battling the deadly virus,” said the Air India captain.

In a ceremony to honor the rescue, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi thanked the 68 Air India employees involved in the rescue flights by handing each of them a letter of appreciation.


Shri Hardeep Singh Puri giving the letter to Captain Singh.Photo: Air India

In the letter, India’s Minister for Civil Aviation, Shri Hardeep Singh Puri wrote:

“We are proud of the intensive commitment shown by the Air India team to bring home their countrymen in spite of very trying conditions in the epidemic-hit Wuhan.” He further added, “I feel proud to confer the appreciation of our Prime Minister expressed through personal letters to all those who had been part of this historic mission. I heartily thank all of them once again for their service to the nation.”

Air India has standby crews ready for emergencies

As the Indian national flag carrier, Air India handles all VIP and government flights and has a standby crew ready to operate a flight at a moment’s notice.

After having received instructions from doctors about how to handle possible infected passengers, Captain Singh says the biggest hurdle in mounting the rescue mission was obtaining visas from the Chinese authorities.

Organizing a rescue mission to Wuhan was nothing out of the ordinary for Air India other than, of course, the possibility of contracting coronavirus. Back in 2015 Air India rescued its citizens following a deadly earthquake in Nepal and had hundreds of aircraft sent to Kuwait during the 1990 Gulf War to fly Indians home.

Wuhan was deserted when the Air India 747 landed

When arriving in Wuhan, the Air India veteran described the roads and buildings as being lit up, yet the area was devoid of people giving it a rather strange daunting feeling.

68 Air India employees were involved in the rescue. Photo: Air India

When talking about the Indian nationals the plane was sent to bring home Singh describes them as all looking tired and worried, not knowing if they had perhaps contracted the deadly virus. Once the plane was airborne Singh recounts smiles and euphoric clapping after it had sunk in that they were going home.

The last sentence of Prime Minister Modi’s letter of appreciation says that Captain Singh and the others involved performed a heroic act that has received appreciation and acknowledgment from people all over the world.