Fake news gave hope to kin of missing IAF plane’s crewman till reality hit them

From a dubious YouTube video to unverified WhatsApp messages, a family in Delhi had been clinging to any sign of hope ever since an Indian Air Force (IAF) plane went missing in Assam on June 3. Onboard the AN-32 aircraft was their 28-year-old Rajesh Kumar, a cook with the IAF.

But when the family switched on their television on Tuesday afternoon, their hopes seemed to crash.“As long as the aircraft was believed to be missing, I was hopeful. But words like ‘wreckage’ and ‘crash’ mean death and hopelessness,” said Kumar’s father, Shiv Ram, in his house in a slum in Race Course Club, close to the Prime Minister’s residence on Lok Kalyan Marg.

On Saturday, the family had “celebrated” after watching a YouTube video claimed that the aircraft was captured by China. “We were overjoyed because we thought our government would rescue the crew the way Abhinandan was brought back from Pakistan,” said Ram.

The family went on to invite Kumar’s six-month pregnant wife, Preeti, from her maternal home to join in the celebrations.

It was only hours later that the family realised that there was no truth to the video. “I remember seeing the smile vanish from Preeti’s face. We felt guilty for our celebrations,” said Kumar’s younger brother, Rajender.

Kumar had joined the IAF five years ago, a year before his father retired from a similar job with the force. The family had learnt of Kumar’s disappearance on June 3 after his wife received a call from his friend in Assam.

“My son had called me at 12.25 pm that day and said that he would be boarding the flight. As usual, I asked him if he had enough money or not. He said he would call me again in a couple of hours. I thought he may have forgotten to call,” said Shiv Ram, now a private security guard.

The family was provided two phone numbers to contact for any updates. Kumar’s father said he doesn’t dial those numbers more than once a day. “I am afraid to repeatedly call on the number, lest the officer gets annoyed. I don’t know who is at the other end, but I believe that I was provided the latest news,” said Ram. He dialled the number around 2pm on Tuesday. “The officer told me that he would give me some concrete update by evening. I assumed it would be good news.”

About 90 minutes later, Ram’s another daughter-in-law, Pinki, hesitatingly asked him to check the TV news. “They seemed to have found a wreckage,” Pinki told him.

Ram lit a beedi before walking into the TV room. “I have begun smoking heavily. At this age, I can’t take so much pain,” said 62-year-old Ram.

First Published:
Jun 12, 2019 06:49 IST

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