When Prime Minister Narendra Modi applauded the efforts of Capt Swati Rawal and Capt Raja Chauhan of Air India Boeing 777 in airlifting 263 Indians, mostly students stranded in Rome, it was a reward to be cherished for the crew of that historic flight on March 22. Among those engaged in that brave service was former Delhi and Assam left-arm spinner Sukhvinder Singh.
The 20-member cabin crew, apart from the pilots, reported at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on March 21, to perform the task, the most important of their careers.
Having been employed with Air India, formerly Indian Airlines, for close to 30 years, Sukhvinder is among the few sportsmen who did not rest on his on-field laurels. “When I was not playing, I was flying,” Sukhvinder told Sportstar. His first-class career, spanning from 1986 to 2004, saw him play 47 matches (148 wickets and 2076 runs with four centuries).
Call of the nation
The duty, flying to Rome with 120 Italian nationals and returning with Indian students, was “call of the nation” for every crew member. “Cricket was the driving force for me to take up challenges in life. This was a mission for us on that flight. We were going to bring back the youth, the future of India. It was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve the country,” said the 53-year-old Sukhvinder.
“Air India has been doing a fantastic job in these times of crisis. Air India flew our countrymen from Wuhan and Milan. We take pride of being a family. Each of our crew members knew it was the need of the hour. We were part of a special flight, a great mission. We all understood the gravity of the situation and grabbed the chance when it came our way,” Sukhvinder recalled the experience.
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“We were provided with all the protection (Hazmat suit) from the COVID-19 virus. I was not scared. Being a cricketer I had come to face challenges and pressures. I have flown with many Heads of State but this was unique. I was part of a historic Air India exercise that was evacuating our young citizens trapped in a foreign land. When we landed, most of them were in tears of joy and relief,” said Sukhvinder, his voice choked with emotion.