The Express Tribune confirms identity of captured Indian pilot

Abhinandan Varthaman bears the service number 27981 and belongs to the F(P) or ‘Flying Pilot’ branch of the IAF

Zeeshan Ahmad February 27, 2019
Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: A fact-checking exercise carried out by The Express Tribune has confirmed that the Indian pilot captured by Pakistani forces is indeed a serving member of the Indian Air Force.

The Pakistani military on Wednesday announced it has shot down two Indian fighter jets that had attempted to violate Pakistan’s airspace once again and has captured one pilot.

The military’s media wing later released the video of the pilot who introduced himself as Wing Commander Abhinandan bearing the service number 27981.

While India has not accepted the loss or capture of any pilots in Pakistani action, Indian military sources did admit at least one pilot was missing in action. “IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan took off in a MiG-21 Bison jet today, he is yet to return,” India’s ANI news agency quoted the sources as saying.

The Express Tribune ran a search on the IAF officers’ database hosted by using both the name and the service number given by the pilot in the video released by ISPR. The query returned a record matching both the name and service number.

According to the results yielded by the search, there is an IAF officer by the name of Abhinandan Varthaman who bears the service number 27981 and belongs to the F(P) or ‘Flying Pilot’ branch of the IAF. The officer was commissioned on June 19, 2004 and attended the 173 Course of the Indian military before induction into service.

The sole discrepancy pertained to the rank of the officer. In the video, the pilot gave his rank as Wing Commander. The record obtained from the website lists him as a Squadron Leader. However, this discrepancy is most likely on account of the record being outdated.

No other details regarding the pilot were available in the record.

After the initial search run by The Express Tribune, it appeared that the entire portal had been blocked, possibly to prevent others from accessing the same record to confirm the pilot’s identity. Repeated attempts to access it yielded a “ERR_NETWORK_ACCESS_DENIED” message.

However, cached copies of the website and the webpage showing the captured pilot’s service record could still be accessed via Google search. According to the message displayed by Google when accessing the cached pages, the snapshots of the website displayed were recorded on February 14 2019 at 15:11:24 GMT.

Bharat-Rakshak, which translates to Defenders of India, is a portal devoted to chronicling and discussing India’s military affairs and is run by Indian military enthusiasts. It started in April 1997 as a consortium of previously independent webpages run by Indian military enthusiasts and now counts many former and serving members of both the Indian military and Indian defence firms in its user base. The website has been seen by defence experts as part of a global Open Source intelligence movement driven by the internet.

In India, Bharat-Rakshak gained notoriety in December 2007 after it was deemed responsible for leaking classified official war histories compiled by the country’s defence ministry.


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