Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who spent nearly 60 hours as a prisoner of the Pakistani military after his MiG-21 Bison was shot down by Pakistan Air Force F-16s in February, is to undergo further medical tests ahead of returning to active duty status. Abhinandan Varthaman, 36, had been taken off flying duties after sustaining injuries as a result of ejecting from his damaged plane and parachuting to safety.
In addition, Wing Commander Varthaman, who emerged a national hero after becoming the first Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot to shoot down the more advanced F-16, is likely to be awarded the Vir Chakra, India’s highest military honour.
The Wing Commander has undergone a series of physical and mental evaluations since being released by Pakistani forces in early March.
He underwent one set soon after his release, which revealed injuries to his ribs. Pakistani officials maintained the injuries were the result of assault by locals and that he was treated in accordance with the Geneva Convection after being taken into custody.
Wing Commander Varthaman has said that while Pakistani authorities did not physically torture him, he was subject to “mental harassment”.
Extensive debriefing sessions were also arranged for the Tamil Nadu-born aviator, who, merely hours after being freed, told senior IAF commanders he was ready to return to the cockpit.
The aim of these test is to check if Wing Commander Varthaman has suffered internal injuries and whether Pakistani authorities have planted electronic spying devices – or bugs – in his body.
In April, amid concerns over his security, the Air Force posted the Wing Commander to an unspecified air base in the western sector that is also along the Pakistan border. IAF Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa confirmed that the Wing Commander would return to flying jets as soon as he was fit.
The dogfight between Indian and Pakistani fighter jets took place in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir by terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) that killed 40 soldiers. In retaliation, Indian fighter jets crossed the border to strike a JeM training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot on Tuesday, spurring a strike by Pakistani F-16s the following day.