The Highest Landing by an Alouette III in the World – August 1983

The Highest Landing by an Alouette III helicopter.

By Brig Hashim Khan, Retd (47th PMA Long Course)

Editor’s Note: Brig Hashim Khan was commissioned in 19 Lancers. He later joined Aviation in 1975. After his retirement, he has settled in DHA Phase 1, Islamabad.

Brig Hashim Khan, Avn, 47 Long CourseOn a sunny morning of 4 August 1983, a member of a Belgian expedition team came to the KKH Detachment at Gilgit and told us that a few days ago, one of their members fell and tumbled a few hundred feet while climbing Rakaposhi, and now he can’t stand up. They had brought him down till Camp 5 and after that he can’t be carried further down. He said Camp 5 was at 5,500 meters. I was the captain of Alouette III and Major Azam (Later Major General) was my co-pilot, on continuation training.

We took off for their Base Camp which was upstream of Jaglot Gah. After landing we were told that Camp 5 was at 6,000 meters. After calculations we realized that it was not possible to take the co-pilot and then take off from that altitude with the casualty. So I decided to leave Maj Azam at the Base Camp. To keep a further safety, I got some fuel drained, got the skis, seats, and rear sliding doors removed. All my calculations were for landing and take off from 6,000 meters.

Aérospatiale Alouette III - Photo of Rakaposhi Peak in the Karakoram Mountain Range - Alouette III Helicopter


I took off alone, and kept climbing till I came abreast Camp 5 and my altimeter read 6,500 meters, on standard atmospheric settings, which was 200 meters more than the permitted altitude for Alouette III helicopter. Anyway, the chopper was handling fine, so I decided to go in. Since I had used the updraft for a quick climb,  was already short on fuel, and the location of Camp was such that I had no choice but to make the approach in tail wind.

Just at the short finals, my fuel gauge warning light flickered for the first time. I touched down just at the edge of the mountain side, so as to keep some portion of my rotor disc in the strong updraft, and since there weren’t any skis, so I kept the helicopter light on wheels, and since there were no rear sliding doors, there was no problem when the other members of expedition loaded the casualty in the helicopter. At that time my altimeter was reading slightly more than 6,500 meters.

I took off backwards and when I was well clear of the mountain, I made a left pedal turn and shoved the cyclic forward to build up speed and utilize the advantage of translational lift. The helicopter responded beautifully and at no time I had to pull more than 1 collective. There was virtual jubilation at the Base Camp. On our return flight to Gilgit, the fuel gauge light had stayed glowing continuously for 14 minutes, and when we landed at Gilgit helipad, we had just one more minute of fuel to go.

Aérospatiale Alouette III - Photo of Alouette III Helicopter - Alouette III HelicopterMajor Azam broke the news to Deputy Commissioner Gilgit, who in turn gave it to newspapers, and that’s when shit hit the fan. Just a couple of weeks earlier, Major JJ (Javed Jehan) had picked a casualty from 14,000 feet in a Puma and he was given a warning by higher-ups. I had landed the chopper at an altitude which was almost 1000 feet higher than the permissible altitude (service ceiling). An Alouette III has a service ceiling of 21,000 feet and I had landed at 22,000 feet. A C of I (Court of Inquiry) was ordered and I knew my goose is cooked. Meanwhile the rest of the expedition reached Gilgit. We requested them not to give the correct altitude of Camp 5. Our stand was that it was located at 20,500 feet which would be 500 feet lower than service ceiling. The C of I had already found me guilty of violating fourteen SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure), and operating higher than the service ceiling would have been a big nail in my coffin. I was already selected for a course on Cobra helicopter in USA and any flight safety violation would have debarred me from the course for 200 hours or 1 year (such were the rules then).

'Order of Leopold' awarded by Belgian King to the pilot of Alouette III Helicopter who rescued Belgian mountaineers in 1983 at RakaposhiThe C of I was in the final stages of completion in Aviation Directorate, when the King of Belgium announced their highest peace time medal for bravery. When General Zia-ul-Haq, the President of Pakistan, learnt about this, he reciprocated by telling Brig Tirmizi to forget the C of I and send a citation instead. I got “Order of Leopold” from Belgium, which the protocol demanded to be conferred by the King himself, but I couldn’t go to Belgium because of contingencies of service.

Since the previous record for highest landing by Alouette III was 19,500 feet, which was at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, and I had landed at 22,000 feet (verified from the expedition), which was a new record for Alouette III helicopter, so Aérospatiale also wanted to honour me, but again due to contingencies of service my availability was denied.

Related Posts:

‘Sewerage Water Tastes Saltish‘, by Brig Hashim Khan (47th PMA)

Sword of Honour Winners, PMA, Kakul, Abbotabad

Pakistan Army Blog (Retired Officers)

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  1. Khadija Shereen says:

    From where can I read some more articles written by Brig Hashim Khan ? I also want to know if he has written any book as I really like his narration. I have read three of his articles and now searching some more. I would be very glad if anyone let me know about some more of his writings.

    • Hashim Khan says:

      Thank you for very much for such an encouraging write up Khadija Shereen Sahiba. Unfortunately when ever I think of getting down to writing something longer than an occasional article, my inbuilt laziness gets the better of me and I start thinking again. If I keep getting such encouragements as yours, may pick up the pen and get cracking. Thank you once again.

  2. Malik Amin says:

    Nice to see you Sir Hashim Khan. I am ur fan since Sunehrey Din and Alpha Bravo Charlie. I like ur style of talking. Regards

  3. Col (R) Arshad Ansari says:

    Always smiling and dashing….never told the story despite being asked many times during Staff Course 1987……..You and Col Zahid Shah were an inspiration to me…

  4. Saqib Mehboob Janjua says:

    Worth reading article. Well Done Sir. You are known for your bravery and commitment towards your profession. How can I forget when my dad’s unit 6 NLI was hit by an avalanche at Siachen, My father was under the snow for more than 10 hours and you evacuated him from world’s highest battlefield in your helicopter. You are my NH (living and rocking). Keep it up.
    Saqib Mehboob
    S/O PA 13775 Lt Col Mahboob ur Rehman (48th PMA)
    6 NLI – Siachen 1988-89

    • Muhammad Fuzail says:

      Brig Hashim Khan,
      You are a complete package of bravery. Very well done, sir. I am proud of you. May Allah bless you.
      I am your fan since you acted in ‘Sunehrey Din’ and ‘Alpha Bravo Charlie’.

    • Hashim Khan says:

      Thank you very much Fuzail.

  5. Hassan Arshad says:

    Hashim Uncle,
    Hassan here, son of Brig Mian Arshad Iqbal. This is no small feat and my father’s fondness for you was clearly well founded – as a daring officer, and more importantly as a human being with a big heart. The scene was recently repeated in the latest movie Everest – not sure if this actually happened at Everest or did they “free ride” on your story – nonetheless truly remarkable!

    • Hashim Khan. says:

      Good to see you here Hasan Dear. Your dad was a great friend of mine. A wonderful and a very loving person. It’s a pity that he had to leave us so early. May Allah Tabarak wa Taala keep him in the choicest place in the Jannah. What are you doing these days and where.

  6. Muhammad Umer Karim says:

    Outstanding Bravery Act! to save a soul!

  7. Maj (R) M.Ejaz Baig says:

    Wonderful deed. Rightly said “All is well that ends well”.

  8. Bravo, Brig Hashim, sir we are proud of you.

  9. Waseem Zafar Iqbal says:

    Brig Hashim,
    Well done!! We are proud of you.

  10. Faiz Afridi says:

    Well done Hashim, we are proud of your professional abilities and brave nature.

  11. Javaid Rahim Bakhsh (19 Lnacers) says:

    Very proud of your daring initiative, expected nothing less from a 19 Lancers officer in any capacity.

  12. Faisal Tirmizi, USA says:

    Well, I am happy that my late father Brig Tirmizi listened to Gen Zia and dropped the Court of Inquiry.
    During the induction of gunships, he opposed induction of Hughes 500 and came out openly in favour of Cobra, earning the wrath of his seniors. Never regretted that decision.

  13. Syed Usman Shah (Kohat) says:

    Proud of you, uncle Hashim!!

  14. Lt Col Masood Alam (Retd) says:

    Well done sir fortune favors the brave. We are proud of you sir. Regards.

  15. Mansoor Orakzai says:

    Good to read in detail the true events very heroic!!

  16. Nasir Ali Sher says:

    Amazing. .

  17. Jawed Aleem says:

    It is so wonderful to read the adventures of a true Aviator. It is also refreshing to see the camadrie that still exists and the very frank and open talk between, once comrades in arms. Brig Hashim, I loved your article about “Sewage water”. Looking forward to some more of your writings. Salaamz.

  18. Mirza Aslam says:

    A Heroic Action. Army Aviation is proud of such daring pilots like you, sir.
    So we have old and daring bold pilots. Good Luck.

  19. Capt Shahid Saif, Retd says:

    Brig Hashim, Sir, I have lot of respect for you and your professional ability. I can recall your two other incidents, one with Col Anjum (Then Maj) about tail hit during practicing quick stop on atl-III near pannel-5 area and the second one probably with Brig Noman Mahmood in nullah near dumble 27. Where in both accidents the helis were completely written off. Can you plz recall and give out the detail of second incident with brig Noman God Bless him.
    Saif Bhatti Capt (R)
    ex Chief Pilot Aga Khan Foundation Islamabad, Mob: 0302 8568863

  20. Maj Gen (R) Waqar A. Kingravi says:

    Sir, I would suggest that if a few photos could also be added to such articles, it would be wonderful.

    • Hashim Khan. says:

      King, your point is very valid. Although we didn’t have a camera, but the expedition people published a book in Belgium and sent me a copy. There was an entire chapter on the rescue mission with quite a few photographs. Careless as I am, I have misplaced that book. I know its somewhere in my study shelves. I look for it one of these days and see how those photos can be brought on this page. If I need help, I’ll holler.

  21. Lt Col (R) Salahuddin Adil Qazi says:

    It is indeed a heroic act and need to be brought in records but it is also important to put all such daring actions in the documents of flying machine so that all the necessary inspections are carried out prior to clearing it for another sortie. Brig Hashim can also narrate the incident of Alt-III crash near Dhamial in which the pilot was late Brig Nauman.

    • Hashim Khan. says:

      Entry is made if a pilot excedes any of the limits of the helicopter, which in this was not required. In fact I flew the same helicopter on yet another such mission in which two Italian climbers were stuck at 18500 ft, in a much difficult place. Col Asghar Abbas Naqvi was my co-pilot in that mission. I have requested Cheema to ask him for the details. On my part, suffice it to say that I wouldn’t have under taken that msn, if I had any doubt about any limit being exceded.

  22. Maj Gen (R) Waqar A. Kingravi (50 PMA) says:

    We were four year old aviation fledglings when this marvelous feat was accomplished by our dashing hero. Well done Brig Hashim. We are really proud of you for bringing such a good name to Pakistan Army Aviation. Col Cheema, the reason for password protection over here is not understood. Can we make such articles more accessible?

    • Hashim Khan. says:

      Thank you Kingravi. You are very kind. Although mine was about to be taken for doing this, which got saved due to the medal announced by the king of Belgium. Even if it were taken, I understood the spirit behind it, and I wouldn’t have regretted.

  23. Maj (R) Tariq Salim Khan, USA says:

    We heard abt Pilots that ‘bold is never old’, here he proved it wrong. Maa Sha Allah !

    • Hashim Khan. says:

      At times I still wonder, how come I am still alive. There are three crashes that walked out of, and neumerous pangas which are better left untold. Thank you Tariq for remembering me with such kind words.

      • Faisal Tirmizi son of Brig Tirmizi, Avn (Late) says:

        Sir, that is why you were inspirational to so many. One was my dearest friend Capt Asif Qadir Sheikh, winner of coveted sword of honour who joined 19 Lancers because of you.

  24. Col (R) Shahid Kureshi (46th PMA) says:

    I was fortunate to accompany Hashim when he visited Belgium some time later after our stint with Simulator Training in Germany. To do justice to that trip and the events therein; needs a separate writeup with some pictures that I will now dig out and compile.

    • Hashim Khan. says:

      That was a memorable trip, and the members of that expedition didn’t leave any stone unturned in ensuring that we are comfortable. Considering the fact that it was an impromptu trip and after so many years. Even there they wanted us to come on a talk show on one of their TV channels, but we didn’t get the security clearance till the day of our departure. Also we were supposed to have an audience with the king, but people back home didn’t like it, so we declined.

  25. Maj (R) Tariq Salim Khan, USA says:

    No big deal. He is special, made to handle such situations. We are proud of him and may he be blessed always !

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