Passengers on board the Chennai-New Delhi flight on Thursday night were quick to identify the couple travelling with them and burst into cheers and claps as they walked towards their seats. Veteran Air Marshal (Retd.) Simhakutty Varthaman and wife Shobha Varthaman were travelling to New Delhi to receive their son, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who is scheduled to return to India on Friday.
Just stop everything you are doing and watch this. Proud and courageous parents of Wing Commander Abhinandan being welcomed into the Chennai-Delhi flight with spontaneous clapping and loud cheer. Much respect for the couple. Valour of your son would be a tale narrated forever.pic.twitter.com/PTfRCTzAa6— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) March 1, 2019
Since Wednesday, February 27, Wing Commander Abhinandan has been in Pakistani custody. His MiG-21 Bison aircraft shot down a Pakistani F-16 in an aerial engagement but also received hits and landed across the LoC.
On Thursday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in the Pakistan National Assembly that the Indian pilot will be released on Friday as a ‘gesture of peace’. According to reports, Abhinandan will be brought to the Wagah-Attari joint check post around 4 pm on Friday.
Apart from the Indian Air Force who will receive the pilot at Wagah border, hundreds of people have started converging at the Wagah border, waving the Indian flag and raising chants of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ to welcome the pilot back home.
The pilot’s father had refused to speak to the media following Abhinandan’s capture and on Thursday night, he told media houses that he just wanted to see him first.
“I just want to see him first. I can only talk after that,” Veteran Air Marshall Varthaman told the Hindu.
Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman was one of the pilots in the package of 8 Indian aircraft which fought the package of 24 Pakistani aircraft which invaded the Indian airspace on Wednesday. While the pilot shot down an F16 that was part of the Pakistan package, his Mig 21 was hit by a missile following which he had to eject and land across the border in Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir.
The pilot was taken into custody by the Pakistan army on the same day. On Thursday, Pakistan announced they would return him by Friday. Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s announcement to release the pilot comes after massive pressure from the international community to adhere to the Geneva Conventions. India had also taken a tough stance and had refused to negotiate his release.