Capt. Deepak Sathe was born into a defence family. He was one of the youngest in his NDA batch, the 58th course of NDA, Pune, which passed out in 1980.

Picture of Captain Deepak Sathe the pilot who lost his life in the Air India Express crash in Kozhikode on August 7 2020
news Air Crash Saturday, August 08, 2020 - 14:43

The last ‘happy memory’ most batchmates have of Capt. Deepak Sathe, the pilot who died in the AI Express IX 1344 in Kozhikode on Friday, was him beaming with happiness at his son’s wedding in March this year. Amidst his friends and family at the wedding, and just before the pandemic brought the country under a lockdown, the retired Wing Commander from the Indian Air Force was in a joyous mood. As messages of mourning poured into WhatsApp groups on Saturday morning, his friends, course-mates, fellow soldiers and colleagues shared images from the wedding or their last meeting, shocked by his sudden death and the tragic plane crash.

“We're extremely saddened by this loss,” says Capt. Sharath Panicker, a colleague pilot and one of his best friends. Capt. Panicker, also a retired Wing Commander with the IAF, has had a pretty similar career path as Capt. Sathe, starting from the National Defence Academy in Pune, into a 22-year career at the IAF and later with private airlines. “He was extremely articulate and intelligent, good at what he did. He was a very keen sportsman, good at golf and squash,” recounts Capt. Panicker.

Capt. Deepak Vasant Sathe was born on April 24, 1961, into a defence family. His father was also an army man, and both Deepak and his brother later entered the defence forces. His brother, Vikas Sathe, joined the Army while he was selected into the IAF. His father was in the Army Education Corp and taught cadets chemistry. Tragedy first struck the family when his brother Vikas died on duty, in a vehicular accident in Jammu several years ago.

Capt. Sathe was one of the youngest in his National Defence Academy (NDA) batch, the 58th course of NDA, Pune, between 1977 and 1980, and belonged to the Juliet Squadron. “He was excellent in academics. He was pretty high on the merit list even when he joined the NDA, and when he graduated from the NDA he left with a “gold torch”, a recognition of his academic brilliance. He was always an exceptional academician,” Capt. Panicker says.

In 1981, Capt. Sathe graduated from the Air Force Academy with the Sword of Honour, and got commissioned into the IAF. “Both of us chose to train as fighter pilots, and we got through. He flew MiG-21s and I flew MiG-21s and MiG-29s,” says Capt. Panicker.

After a 22-year successful career, he retired as a Wing Commander from the IAF in 2003. About a year later, he joined Air India and initially flew the Airbus A310 as First Officer. He later quit Air India and joined Air India Express few years ago.

“He has two sons, one works in the US and the other works in Bengaluru. One of them got married recently in March, and all Deepak's batchmates and friends had attended it, we all hold special memories from that time,” Capt. Panicker says fondly. Capt. Sathe's wife and family were flown down to Kozhikode on Saturday morning on a special flight.

“Sathe was my course-mate from NDA Juliet Squadron and I knew him very well. He passed out as a Battalion Cadet Captain of Third Battalion of NDA, which is very prestigious. Very sweet to talk to, very professional and always helpful," says retired Col. Ramakrishnan, another NDA batchmate.

"And this was his motto in life - 'Me and God have this little arrangement. If He wakes me up to see another day, I promise to try and be better than I was yesterday'."

All of Saturday morning condolence messages have been flooding WhatsApp groups. Everyone remembers Capt. Sathe as an intelligent and warm person. Pictures and memories of when they spoke to him or met him last are being shared.

One of the messages recounted – “He called me just a week before and was jovial as always. 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. Never the aircraft flies to these countries empty." That was my last conversation with him.”

The message also recounts how Capt. Sathe had survived an air crash in the early 90s when he was in the IAF. “He was hospitalised for six months for multiple skull injuries, nobody thought that he will fly again. But his strong will-power and love for flying made him clear the test again. It was a miracle,” the message reads. Meanwhile, another retired IAF officer recounted how he and Capt. Sathe had served together during Operation Parakram in Bhuj.

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