Coronavirus | Former cricketer Sukhvinder Singh recounts his rescue mission to Italy

‘Once-in-a-life-time chance to serve the country’

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi applauded the efforts of Capt. Swati Rawal and Capt. Raja Chauhan of Air India Boeing 777 that airlifted 263 Indians, mostly students stranded in Rome, it was an appreciation to cherish for the crew of that historic flight on March 22. Among those engaged in the operation was senior purser Sukhvinder Singh, former Delhi and Assam left-arm spinner.

Important assignment

The 20-member cabin crew reported at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on March 21 to perform, perhaps, the most important assignment of their careers. Flying to Rome with 120 Italian nationals and returning with Indian students, was the “call of the nation” for every crew member.

Having been employed with Air India (formerly Indian Airlines), for close to 30 years, Sukhvinder is among the few sportspersons who did not rest on the on-field laurels.

“When I was not playing, I was flying,” Sukhvinder told The Hindu. His First Class career, spanning from 1986 to 2004, saw him play 47 matches (148 wickets and 2076 runs with four centuries).

“Cricket was the driving force for me to take up challenges in life. This was a mission for us. We were going to bring back the youth, the future of India. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve the country,” said the 53-year-old.

Rising to the occasion

“Air India has been doing a fantastic job in these times of crisis. It flew our countrymen from Wuhan and Milan. We take pride in being a part of that family. Each crew member knew it was the need of the hour. We understood the gravity of the situation and grabbed the chance when it came our way,” said Sukhvinder, recalling the experience.

“We were provided with all the protection (Hazmat suit) from the COVID-19 virus. I was not scared. Being a cricketer, I have faced many challenges and pressure. I have flown with many Heads of States, but this was unique.

“I was part of a historic exercise that was evacuating our young citizens trapped in a foreign land. When we landed, most of them shed tears of joy and relief,” said Sukhvinder, his voice choked with emotion.

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