I was at Kajang Town this evening to hold an unscheduled meeting with some old kampung friends. Upon my arrival, someone remarked, “Here comes the Hero of the Sky”. I was a bit puzzled and said, “Are you referring it to me?”. The person said, “Yes, and are you not from the Air Force?”. I replied that I am just a foot slogger, and the heroes of the skies were the air force pilots that flies in the army, in and out of the jungle. He then said that he has been reading my blog, especially the article on the Pingat Tentera Udara, and he thought that I was an Air Force officer as well.
Upon returning home, the 'Heroes of the Sky' remark is something I could write about, to refer to those RMAF helicopter pilots who were supporting the army throughout the period of the Communist Insurgency from 1969 until their eventual surrender in 1989, in both Sarawak and the peninsular.
My first 'hairy experience' on a helicopter was in 1969 operating in Batu Melintang, Kelantan. I was ordered to act as the advance party of my platoon, to reconnoiter a suitable landing point for the rest of the platoon in the Belum area. There were only to be four of us on the Allouette helicopter, excluding the pilot. To get to the Belum area, we had to cross the main mountain range and I could not imagine what it would be like to cross the high mountain range on an Allouette helicopter.
When the helicopter arrived, we were given the thumbs up by the pilot to alight the helicopter. We scrambled into the helicopter with our haversacks filled with 14 days of pack rations. I was invited by the pilot with a smile, to take the seat besides him. Little did I realised that the smiling pilot was my course mate, the late Lt Nasir Ma Lee. I could not recognised him because he had his pilot's helmet on, and he must have recognised me first; hence the smile.
As we were nearing the designated area, Nasir informed me that he was trying to located a suitable landing point to drop us off. I was by then a bit disoriented, not knowing actually where were we. I only noticed a large river, and Nasir pointed to me on his map that it is Sg. Belum. We circled the area several times with Nasir looking out to see if he could land the helicopter on firm ground.
As we flew along the river, Nasir pointed out to a patch of sand dune in the river that he intends to drop us off. I nodded to him, not realising that Nasir was not going to land the helicopter on the sand dune but instead, we had to jump off the helicopter.
Nasir brought the helicopter slowly down and at about the height of 6 feet, we threw out our haversacks and started jumping out of the helicopter, one at a time. This was to be my first jump out of a helicopter and we landed safely without any broken limbs. I gave Nasir the thumbs up to thank him, only to know that he left the Air Force several years later to join a private helicopter service. I would say that Nasir and me were true buddies, because a few days before he crashed with a trainee pilot a few years ago, he wrote me an email to ask me to watch the sky in Kuala Lumpur for the 'flying advertising plane'.
If one could recall sometimes in the 70's, Nasir was the pilot who was involved in the rescue of some building occupants during the burning of Bank Bumiputra in Jalan Ampang.
It was a sad day for me to see Nasir die in an aircrash, and I was there at the mortuary of the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital to bid him farewell. I was glad to be at the mortuary because I was able to meet Nasir's brother, Hj Mustafa Ma who happened to be my teacher in Kuala Lumpur back in the late 50's.
Another 'hairy experience' on a helicopter was during a routine resupply flight on a Nuri helicopter in the Gunung Inas forest reserve around the Kulim area some times in the early 70's. I accompanied the flight to drop off rations to my troops operating in the area. The drop point was constructed along a hill slope, since the troops were operating high on the hills, and they could not find a safe area where the helicopter could land. I could not recall who the pilot was, and due to the nature of the terrain in relation to the drop point, the pilot had to lower the helicopter vertically. The approach was tight for the helicopter and as we decended slowly, the helicopter suddenly dropped and swayed. The pilot reacted quickly to gain contol of the helicopter, with me muttering all the Quranic verses that I knew. I think I went white, but upon watching the pilot and the crew who seemed so confident and cool, I began to regain my composure.
I could continue to write my experiences flying on an RMAF helicopter, but surffice for me to say that the skills of our helicopter pilots is second to none. Many had sacrificed their lives, and I lost many friends too. But now that the nation is at peace, people tend to forget our helicopter pilots who were there when the army needed them. Never have they failed us, and I remembered an instant where we had to do a casualty evacuation when it was already getting late, but yet the helicopter came in even during fading light.
These are the 'Heroes Of The Sky', and to you Nasir, Chong, Nor and many others who have supported the army in the jungle during the period of the Communist Insurgency, we will forever remember you and salute you.
So why is the goverment having the big fuss of depriving some of the 'Heroes Of The Sky' of their gallantry allowances especially for all recipients the Pingat Tentera Udara? Are the pilots considered a lesser hero just because they are in the sky?
To our political masters, you will never know how our pilots have endured, flying the helicopters under the threat of being shot down like birds off the sky.
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION