Meet the first all-women team of skydivers of the Indian Air Force (IAF), which will make its official debut on Air Force Day on October 8 by jumping from an An-32 transport aircraft at the Hindon airbase on the outskirts of Delhi.
All of them IAF officers, a psychologist, an accounts officer and engineers make up the six-member team led by Wing Commander Asha Jyotirmoy, a mother of two.
Asha, an accounts officer, is a skydiving ace, carrying on her back loads of experience apart from the parachute bag. She was led to the sport by her husband, Wing Commander EKN Swaroop, also an IAF skydiver.
Her athlete background helped. Asha had competed in heptathlon at the national level before joining the IAF.
Thirteen years after her first jump, she still talks about the sport with a child-like enthusiasm. “It’s something that cannot be explained. You are flying like a bird,” she said, after a practice jump with her team at the Hindan airbase on Thursday.
She joined the IAF in 1997 and set her eyes on skydiving two years later. Though she met with an accident when her parachute was entangled in high-tension cables in 2001 at Tambaram in Tamil Nadu, it did not faze her. Soon, husband and wife became the first skydiving couple in the air force. In the last 11 years, she has made 560 jumps.
When the IAF decided to form the first women’s team of skydivers, Asha was the obvious choice. In 2009, the team was picked and flown to scenic Car Nicobar for training. Asha missed the initial days as she was carrying her second child.
Flight Lieutenant Priyanka Shedangi wanted to become a pilot but ended up being a skydiver. She is happy she did. A proud member of the women skydiving team, she now enjoys flying – outside the aircraft – much more than a pilot probably does sitting inside the cockpit.
An engineer by training, Priyanka left her cushy job in a multi-national firm to join the IAF as a technical officer. For Flight Lieutenant Sangeeta Paulraj, an education branch officer, the experience was clearly out of the world as it was where the blue sky, the ocean and green coconut trees on the ground merged.
Sangeeta is also the team photographer, who films the jumps with her helmetmounted camera. The Bangalorean has already completed 200 jumps.
From Car Nicobar, the team shifted to Arizona, US, for a 45-day specialised training.
Flight Lieutenant Priyanka Hooda, from Hissar, took to skydiving inspired by television shows on the adventure sport. The other skydivers in the team, Nisha Govardhan, an electronic and computer engineer, and Rupal Thakur are equally thrilled to be in the spotlight.”