The matter is of August 20, 1971.
Young Pakistani pilot, Officer Rashid Minhas, was taking his T-33 trainer for take-off on his second flight at Karachi’s Mauripur air base shortly before noon.
When he reached the take-off point, he was stopped there by the Assistant Flight Safety Officer, Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman. Pilots who were learning to operate a new aircraft were often tested like this.
Minhas also felt that perhaps he too had been stopped for investigation. But Matiur Rahman had other intentions.
Matiur was a Bengali officer and he was not happy with the Pakistani army’s action in Dhaka. He along with his friend Sadruddin had planned to flee to India with his plane.
The Pakistani administration was aware of this. When the clouds of war with India started looming, he along with other Bengali officers gave ground duty to Mati and made her Assistant Flight Safety Officer.
Pakistan’s Air Force historian Kaiser Tufail writes in his article ‘Bluebird 166 is hijacked’, ‘Bengali officers posted in Karachi realized that Pakistani intelligence was tracking them. He decided that he would continue to have friendly relations with the officers of the base and never get together. But it was agreed inside that he would hijack the Pakistani Air Force plane and take it to India.
Initially there were plans to hijack one or two F-86 Saber aircraft, but then it was felt that the mere presence of a Bengali officer on the base’s tarmac would put them under suspicion. It was almost impossible to hijack the second jet without the help of ground crews. Then it was decided that it would be much easier to hijack the T-33 aircraft going on a solo mission.
- Matiur Rahman stopped Rashid Minhas’s plane with his hand
That day Rashid Minhas got his breakfast heated in his squadron crew room. He did not have to board the flight as the weather around Karachi was too bad to fly alone. But suddenly the weather improved and Minhas was asked to prepare to fly.
Kaiser Tufail writes, ‘Rashid Minhas left his breakfast in the middle and went to get a flight brief from Flight Lieutenant Hasan Akhtar. He wore flying clothes. Quickly ate two gulab jamuns and took two or three sips of Coco Cola. At 11:30 am the T-33 aircraft approached the main tarmac with the call sign Bluebird 166. Meanwhile, Matiur Rahman reached the northeast track of the main airport in his personal Opel credit car. When Mati signaled to stop the plane, then Minhas understood that maybe Mati wanted to give some important message.
- Air Traffic Control notified of aircraft hijacking
After giving the signal to stop Rashid Minhas, as soon as the plane stopped, Mati climbed into the rear cockpit of the aircraft through the open canopy. He pretended that he was checking the cockpit. Before Minhas could understand anything, the plane started running on the runway.
Kaiser Tufail writes, ‘All that Minhas was able to do was informed Air Traffic Control at 11:28 am that his plane had been hijacked. Rahman must have used a pistol to get Minhas to follow his instructions, otherwise Minhas could have turned off the engine of the aircraft on seeing the danger.
Captain Fariduzmaan, a Bengali officer posted in ATC at the time, who later joined Saudi Airlines, wrote in the 6 July 2006 issue of the Bangladeshi daily The Daily Star, “I could see that both pilots were in control of the aircraft. There’s a struggle going on.”
“I realized at the same time that Matiur Rahman was trying to destroy India because he was neither wearing a parachute nor a helmet.’ As the plane went out of sight, other officers posted in ATC issued a missing alert. Two Saber jets were rushed to intercept the T-33.”
- Rashid Minhas ‘freeze in cockpit’
Another famous Pakistani pilot and Sitar-e-Zurrat awardee, Sajjad Haider, in his autobiography ‘Flight of the Falcon’, mentioning Matiur Rahman, wrote, ‘Mati worked under me during 1965-66. I believe that Rasheed did not make a serious effort to stop the hijack. If he wanted, he could shut off the main fuel switch which is located in the front cockpit.
Group Captain Zaheer Hussain, head of the Air Investigation Board, also believed that the young and inexperienced Minhas froze in the cockpit. Flying very low, Mati diverted her plane to the left. ATC officer Asim Rashid realized that there was something black in the pulse when the plane started flying very low. This was immediately reported to Base Commander Bill Latif.
He sent two F-86 Saber planes that had landed at that time to intercept them. These planes were being operated by Wing Commander Sheikh Salim and his wingman Flight Lieutenant Kamran Qureshi. But the radar was not getting any clue of that plane as the T-33 was flying at the height of the tree.
Anyway, eight minutes had passed since he flew and if he had followed him at his full speed, he could not have reached him before the limit. Some more time was wasted when a radar error caused a pair of F-86 aircraft to hit the back of a B-57 aircraft returning from a routine mission from Nawabshah.
- The news of the plane falling from the police station
A short time later another pair of F-86 aircraft were sent to pursue the T-33. They were flown by Flight Lieutenant Abdul Wahab and Flight Lieutenant Khalid Mahmood. Abdul Wahab later recalled, ‘We knew something was amiss. There was a lot of confusion when we went in the air. Still, we sent a fake message to the guard channel that the F-86 plane was right behind the T-33 and would be shot down if it didn’t return. We started instructing Minhas through radio calls to eject from the plane. But we did not get any response from the plane.
The hijacked plane could not be traced for a long time. The situation became clear when in the afternoon a call came from Shahbandar police station that a plane had crashed and both the people on board had been killed. Immediately a helicopter was sent on a relief mission. He saw the tail of the T-33 sunken beside a pond, 64 nautical miles away from Masroor, on which its number 56-1622 was written. The probable time of the plane crash was given at 11:43 am.
- struggle trying to take control
Rahman’s lively plan to take the plane to India did not succeed. The T-33 aircraft fell to the ground at a place called Thatta, 32 miles before the Indian border. Witnesses on the ground saw that the plane was flying erratically, which meant that there was a struggle for control inside the plane. Later, the Air Investigation Board, formed to investigate this episode, said in its report that ‘the canopy was not locked during the flight.
She stayed in her place for some time under the pressure of the outside air, but when the plane started flying incorrectly, she took off and hit the rear of the plane, causing the plane to land on the nose. Maybe it is because of this that Matiur Rahman flew out of the cockpit as he did not get time to fasten the safety belt. The team investigating this incident found a toy pistol near the dead body of Matiur Rahman. The body was found at some distance from the accident site. Rashid Minhas’s body was found in the crashed plane itself.
- Pakistan’s highest gallantry award for Rashid Minhas
Rashid Minhas was declared a hero in Pakistan and was awarded the highest gallantry award, Nishan-e-Haider. He became the youngest Air Force pilot of Pakistan to receive this honour.
At that time he was only 20 years old. His letter of honor read, ‘Rashid deliberately dropped the plane to the ground to prevent it from being hijacked.’
Rashid was buried at the same place where he died. Initially, it was recommended to give Sitar-e-Zurrat to Minhas. But when the full story was told to the President of Pakistan, Yahya Khan, he said that this boy does not deserve less than Nishan-e-Haider. It was announced on the same day.
- Matiur Rahman turned villain in Pakistan while hero in Bangladesh
Matiur Rahman was labeled a traitor and a villain. Mati was cremated at the Mauripur airbase, where her body lay in oblivion for 35 years. Not only this, after putting his picture at the entrance of Mashroor airbase, ‘Gaddar’ was written under it. His wife Mili Rahman and their two younger daughters were taken into custody while Matiur Rahman was given Bir Shrestho, Bangladesh’s highest gallantry award, for his bravery.
This incident of hijacking added to the difficulties of Bengali officers in the Pakistani army. PV S Jaganmohan and Sameer Chopra wrote in their book ‘Eagles over Bangladesh’, ‘Things reached such a point that even the hero of 1965 war and the Arab Israel war of 1967, Saif-ul-Azam was killed by four other Bengali officers Group Captain MS Islam, Wing. Commander Kabar was taken into custody along with Squadron Leader GM Choudhary and Flight Lieutenant Meezaan.
He was rigorously questioned about his plan to escape to India or East Pakistan. After being in jail for 21 days, Saif-ul-Azam was released after the intervention of Pakistani Air Force Chief Air Marshal Rahim. Rahim Khan expressed his sympathy on the treatment done to Azam, but simultaneously he cautioned him not to take such steps in future to spoil Rahim Khan’s position in the army.
- Proposal for Bengali officers to settle abroad
Rahim Khan then proposed to Saif-ul-Azam that he could settle in a third country after retiring prematurely from the Pakistani Air Force, but Azam did not accept the offer. A similar proposal was also given to other Bengali officers. Group Captain MG Tawaf accepted this offer and took West German citizenship. It was also easy for him because his wife was a citizen of Germany. Flight Lieutenant Shaukat Islam also took advantage of this decision. Islam, who became a prisoner of war in the 1965 war, was then working in the Turkish Air Force under an exchange program. When Bangladesh became independent in 1971, instead of going from Turkey to Pakistan, he went straight to Bangladesh.
Matiur Rahman’s body was brought to Dhaka.
After 30 years of tireless efforts, on June 24, 2006, the body of Matiur Rahman was taken out of his cemetery in Karachi to Dhaka by a special flight of Bangladesh Biman where he was reburied with full military honors at the Martyrs Cemetery in Mirpur. .
The then Prime Minister of Bangladesh Khaleda Zia received the body of Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman, wrapped in the national flag, at Dhaka airport.
Matiur Rehman’s wife Miti, his daughter Tuhin Matihur Haider, his other relatives and old companions were also present at the airport at that time. At the same time, the Bangladesh Army also gave him a guard of honour. Later the Bangladesh Airbase in Jessore was named after him and the Government of Bangladesh also issued a postage stamp in his honor.