Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe, the pilot of ill-fated Air India Express flight (AXB1344, B737) was a trained aviator who earlier flew MiG 21s in the Indian Air Force (IAF). Sathe died along with co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar and 18 others in the crash on Friday night.
Captain Sathe was a former IAF MiG 21 test pilot with 17 Squadron (Golden Arrows) in Ambala who served the country for 22 years before retiring in 2003 after which he moved to commercial flying.
The former test pilot also served as an instructor at the Air Force Training Academy. He took premature retirement from the IAF, moved to commercial flying, and joined Air India.
The experienced aerial operator had flown the Airbus 310 for the national carrier before moving to Air India Express to fly a Boeing 737.
An alumnus of the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune, Captain Sathe was awarded President Gold Medal in the 58th Course of Pune NDA from Juliet Squadron. He passed out from Air Force Academy (AFA) with the 'Sword of Honour' in 1981.
Besides being an ace test pilot, Captain Sathe was also an exceptional squash player.
His body, along with that of his co-pilot Kumar, is being kept at the MIMS hospital in Kozhikode.
According to unconfirmed reports coming in, he shut down the engine right before the crash, saving the lives of passengers and cabin crew onboard the flight.
Initial inputs suggest that the fuselage broke into two after the Air India Express plane overshot the runway during its second attempt to land at the Kozhikode International airport in Kerala, also known as Karipur 'tabletop' airport.
The flight was returning to the airport from Dubai as part of the government's 'Vande Bharat' repatriation initiative.