Singapore: An Indian Navy commander and a captain were among those honoured at the ‘Asian of The Year’ awards here on Wednesday, acknowledging their selfless service and bravery in rescue operations during the devastating floods in Kerala.
Commander (Pilot) Vijay Varma and Captain (Pilot) P Rajkumar were honoured for their death-defying rescue flying during the floods earlier this year.
Commander Varma, 42, who was widely praised for leading the rescue in a district of the port city of Kochi, winched up a heavily pregnant woman who gave birth just after being airlifted to safety.
Captain Rajkumar, 54, winched 26 people up from a rooftop in Kochi while hovering between trees and other houses just two days after receiving a medal for saving a fisherman last year. A video of his Sea King helicopter pulling up a wheelchair-bound pregnant woman was widely shared on social media.
Rajkumar ended up with 32 people on board. Together with dozens of helicopters, Indian Navy pilots undertook high-risk missions to save people from rooftops and isolated land as the southern state battled the severe flood crisis in August.
“This year, the editors are pleased to honour the many men and women of courage and commitment who stepped up in the moment of greatest need,” said a press release by ‘The Straits Times‘ daily which is associated with the awards.
Many ran towards the disaster-struck areas looking to help friends and neighbours moments after the tragedy. It is these people, together with organisations that would arrive later, that the daily would like to honour, it said.
Collectively, the award also goes to the late Ng Kok Choong, a Singaporean paraglider, for his rescue work in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Central Sulawesi in Indonesia.
Also honoured were individuals who rushed to the scene of disaster, including at the Tham Luang cave rescue in Thailand and Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman, National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB), Indonesia.
Others awarded included the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre), and Singapore NGO Mercy Relief, who operated amid large scale flooding, earthquakes and a variety of other disasters.
“They have served as a beacon of selflessness and the finest instincts of mankind – to preserve and protect the flock at the cost of their own lives, if necessary,” said the release.
Warren Fernandez, editor of ‘The Straits Times‘, said, “The first responders were picked after the briefest of debates because theirs was a standout case of courage and selflessness. In an Asia witnessing disasters of increasing frequency and intensity, it is clear that there is nothing like ‘over there’ anymore – we all are equally affected.”
“These men, and the two organisations we picked, have taught us through personal example that at the end of the day security is indivisible,” he said. Now in its seventh year, ‘The Straits Times‘ Asian of the Year award, announced towards the end of each year, has become an important part of the Asian calendar since 2012.