Tuesday, October 20, 2009

HEROES OF THE SKY

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

12 comments:

komando said...

These are the real unsung heroes of our times..they came without fear and never let us down the foot soldiers !

I have lost four dear friends in the RMAF...NEVER A DAY WE CAN DO WITHOUT THEM...

They can never be replaced and never be honoured for all their sacrifices to KING & COUNTRY

Hopefully the political masters and THE PAT AND PTU can do something good! HOPEFULLY !

Capt's Longhouse said...

Gee! thanks guys for remembering. Just an o.k. thumbs up is all we asked for-lah.

Capt. Shariff UBAN - ex-RMAF chopper pilot NOW pirate of Kapas Island yoo ?.

Mej (B) Nor Ibrahim Bin Sulaiman said...

Dato',
Thank you for the write-up. Arwah Capt Nasir Ma Lee was my Alouette instructor during my flying training at SEA Helicopter, see "US-Made Pilot".

What we did in supporting the ground troops was our job.

I raised this allowance issue simply because the recipients of JPP, PTU and KPK are being discreminated. Afterall, these 3 medals are 5 of the nation's gallantry awards. Why only SP and PGB are given the allowance? The nation recognises Olympic medal recipients by giving them pension-'gold' RM5K, 'silver' RM3K, and 'bronze' RM1500'. Our badminton silver medalist gets his monthly RM3K pension.

Again, may I have your permission to publish this article in my blog. It is indeed an honour to read an article on the chopper pilots by a 'footslogger'.

EAGLE said...

After reading all the issues related to the Armed Forces, just can't help to feel very very sad indeed.
The mind begins to wonder, is it worth the effort that we spent almost or maybe more than half our life defending the sovereignty of the nation and we fade away, forgotten just like that.
Can you imagine if the officers are treated in the manner of what we are discussing today, what about the soldiers? Who bothers about them apart from those who take the opportunity to be with UMNO politics which majority are not interested to be in politic as they have had enough. What about those who perished in the cause of their duty!!! The Ex serviceman Association?!!! wonder why!!!? not many wants to be active in that grouping?
Sacrifice for the King and country and then just chuck them-just like that dato'!!!. Don't you think that the power that be, will have to pay a very heavy price one day!!!
Never betray your friends and never betray your subordinates!!! as it really hurts.
About time to remind those serving generals right from CDF to pull up their socks before a nasty wake up call being made and we don't need excuses!!! Lip service a plenty in the Armed Forces. Alahai... PAT!!

Fabian said...

My dear friend,

1. Your dedication and devotion in putting up this blog and writing all the articles you have written is your great contribution to honour the heroes, sung or unsung, Army, Navy or Air Force.

2. Truly, each and everyone of the heli-pilot and air crew are part and parcel of the nation FRONT LINE-SOLDIERS who fought and won two insurgencies that very few nations in the world can boast about. It is GREATER THAN WINNING TWO FOOTBALL WORLD CUP. All Malaysians should be very proud of you. I know, I do.

Like the civilians and some MINDEF guys said "we were doing our job", they are right. But our job is DIFFERENT from many others' jobs. Our jobs call for facing the nation enemy and its bullets. If we lose, we lose Malaysia.

Yeah, cheers to our sky heroes. They are second to none in the world. In fact, they are the best because they have the experience, flying in our difficult and dangerous terrain - the jungles and mountains are hazardous - and the terrorists were taking shots at them. Yeah, one never knew whether they would come home to their loved ones. The number of heli-pilots and crew sacrificed their lives for the nation in the job (service to the King and Country) speak for itself.

My salute to the heli-pilots and crew-men.

You deserve the allowance for your PTU. I believe MINDEF will correct the oversight.

God bless each and everyone of you.

Cheers Chong, Cheers Nor. Cheers everybody.

Fabian Wong
An ex-footsoldier/MIO
Kuching
017-851-5225

Fabian said...

My dear friend,

1. I said, "if we lose, we lose Malaysia". It is not just a chamionship cup, it is Malaysia.

2. Perhaps you can add a few punches there or better still write an article, "Had We Lost". Ever wonder what would happen if we had lost the insurgency wars in Peninsular and Sarawak, like losing two regions in a general election to the Opposition? If the sky heroes and the land heroes were not there to do the job and win the war, we all might not be here. Then, Chin Peng would have the say, who can stay and who should leave the Country.

3. Would MINDEF be occupied or staffed with the present Minister, Secretary General, high ranking civil officers and Generals and staff?

4. I believe, they will DO THEIR JOB to ensure the Heroes of the Sky are looked after and their PTU translated as SP or PGB.

Cheers.

Fabian Wong
Kuching
017-851-5225

ArshadRaji said...

Dear All,

Thanks for being in unison with me. Nor, please do the necessary.

komando said...

Soldiers are pawns of political masters!

ALWAYS USED & ABUSED!

WHY - because they wage war and they never see the end of it! Troops will die whilst all the Presidents, Prime Ministers and Kings eat breakfast in BED!

They never go to the front lines, they stay a million miles away in the safety and comfort of a cool and cozy house with their loved ones !

THE SOLDIERS EAT C-RATIONS AND DRINK RAIN WATER !

HOPING & PRAYING TO SURVIVE ANOTHER DAY AND NOT GET THEIR LEGS BLOWN UP OR WORST INTO SMITTENS!

WE THE EX COMRADE IN ARMS WILL NOT SIT STILL AND WE SHALL ALL RISE AND STAND UP AND BE COUNTED!

WE SHALL FIGHT ON FOR THE BETTERMENT OF ALL THE EX SOLDIERS, THE MEN WHO SERVED THE KING & THIS COUNTRY...

THE KING MUST BE OUR LAST CHANCE IF EVERYTHING ELSE AILS...REMEMBER HE COMMISSIONED US NOT THE PEE M! OR UMNO OR BN !

WE HAVE BEEN SQUEEZED OF EVERY DROP OF BLOOD FROM AGE 18YRS OLD TILL 21 YRS FOR A SOLDIER...

OFFICERS RETIRE AS AND WHEN THEY FEEL THEY WANT TO AFTER 20YEARS!

SO AFTER ALL BLOOD IS DRAINED OUT WE ARE DISCARDED..

GULA DI PERAH...HAMPES DI BUANG..JUST AN OLD MALAY PROVERB!

I STRONGLY SUGGEST IN THE FUTURE ALL MINISTERS AND ADUN'S & MP's SHOULD BE SENT FOR MILITARY TRAINING, MAKE IT COMPULSORY...JUST TO LET THEM FEEL WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE A SOLDIER!

BETTER STILL SEND THEM TO SOMALIA..AT LEAST FOR A MONTH.

HAVE A TASTE OF WHAT CIVIL UNREST AND CIVIL WAR IS ALL ABOUT..IF THEY THINK THEY WANT TO TURN THIS COUNTRY INTO A POLITICAL CIRCUS...

MINSTERS TALK NONSENSE AND THEY NO NOTHING ABOUT WARS AND CONFLICTS

AT THE END OF THE DAY EVERYBODY LOSSES...NOBODY GAINS NO NOTHING!

Buat kerja bodoh namanya...

zulu said...

Dato’

Like many others I have accumulated a fair bit of “flying hours” in my years of service. I have also personally known many ‘Heroes of the Sky’ who had taken the extreme risks to support our missions. These unsung heroes were too humble to tell the stories, they had simply shrugged it off as ‘part of the job’. These pilots had been taught to Serve to Lead. Never to complain. I salute their leadership, their commitments, their skills and their prayers. But mostly their prayers which were blessed as I live to tell their stories, hopefully to the present top brasses in the air force, so that those currently serving will still remember to Serve to Lead.

Many of us, I am sure will remember our pilots flying in near zero visibility or caught into electrical thunder storms over our mountain ranges. How rain and water would get into the Nuri’s engine compartment because the covers could not close securedly and the pilot’s change of composure when more than one red warning light would have triggered off.

In the mid sixties, Tawau airport had no night landing facilities. The weekly Dart Herald scheduled flight from KL to Tawau, via Labuan and KK would take almost the full day, ETA Tawau was usually around 1800 hours. My first operational tour was to Sabatik Island off Tawau. Our flight to Tawau was boring with a delay in Labuan, until we were caught with a storm brewing in our rear as we flew to Tawau. The ETA was at least 2000 hours and there was NO TURNING BACK to Labuan or KK. 5 Bde was alerted of our late arrival and all the army vehicles in Tawau Camp were lined up on both sides of the runway. We landed safely. Those who flew into Tawau airport also knows that it had a very short runway and that the approach was always from the sea and at the other end of the runway was Bukit Nonokan. The pilot had only one shot during the finals as he came in. He must touch down at the threshold or he will run into the hill. No ABS brakes.

I salute the pilots who flew the Caribou. For each time I was on board, the Air QM would not fail to seek my or other passengers’ assistance. He would instruct us to “ Tolong saya pegang ini Tuan, Jangan letak sehingga saya akan beri tahu nanti” So many things ‘longar’ in the Caribou that it was a miracle it could fly. But fly they did, our Heroes of the Sky.

nxforget said...

komando,

A reasonable proposal to get ADUN & MP to undergo military training and be sent to war torn zone.

Hopefully, that will bring out some senses in them and not turn the country into circus.

But,on second thought, the reverse could also take effect. They could also become warmongers like the Bush'es.

ArshadRaji said...

Dear All,

There are certainly lots to tell by the pilots who service the 60's right thru end of 80's.
I only hope some one can document each and everyone's experiences, and have it published.
Their experiences are vastly different from today's pilots.
Can some start the documentation please.

taming said...

Those brave helicopter pilots have
sacrificed their lives so that others may live to enjoy peace in this country.

If the Minister of Defence, KSU, PAT and COAF were to refer to respective CITATIONS of JPPs, PTUs and KPKs recepients, they would be convinced that they too deserve similar allowances though the amount may vary. They should have done better "homework" before announcing the new allowances for SP and PGB!

I spoke to some senior ex-RMAF officers who were former commanders of some of the PTU, KPK recepients and wrote citations on them. They wished the country could award PGBs to dozens of pilots of No.3 Sqn RMAF for the year 1978/1979 during which more than 13 times the RMAF Nuris were shot by the Communist Terrorists (CTs) in the Malaysia/Thailand border. They felt hurt and upset knowing the authorities neglet the PTU and KPK recepients and wished that they had written PGB citations for all those guys.

I also learn that except for one Nuri helicopter which crashed after being shot and suffered total loss of lives, all helicopters and the crew survived the shooting incidents. The brave and professional handling of the machines and with the Grace of the God, they live to receive their medals which now NOBODY cares.

I feel that JPP, PTU and KPK recepients deserve to be accordingly given similar allowances which are accorded to SP and PGB recepients.