Sharjah: A UAE-based female pilot has hit the headlines for flying the first charter flight of repatriating stranded Indians during the COVID-19 pandemic to Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of the Indian state of Odisha.
The Air Arabia flight from Sharjah on Sunday took home 215 stranded and distressed Odias in the UAE, occupying the full capacity of the flight G9 645.
Dr Chandra Sekhar Khuntia, a volunteer with the Odia Society of UAE which chartered the flight, said it was the “first of its kind by any Odia community around the world”.
While the first repatriation flight under the Vande Bharat Mission from the UAE to Bhubaneswar in May was the first ever international flight to land in the capital city of the state, this was the first ever international charter flight to land there, he said.
“It was a pleasant surprise for the 215 Odias on board when the pilot, Flight Commandant Captain Madhusmita Patnaik made the pre-departure announcement in Odia language,” Dr. Khuntia told Gulf News on Monday.
A video of the inflight announcement in her mother tongue, which received a huge applause from the passengers, has gone viral among Odia community members.
In a tweet, Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik said he was glad to know about the charter flight and that it was piloted by Captain Madhusmita Patnaik who is an Odia. He also expressed his gratitude to the Odia Society for their efforts in sending home the 215 stranded Odias.
The long-desired homecoming was extra special for the stranded expats as it fell on the special occasion of Raja Parba festival celebrations in Odisha.
In a video after the successfulflight, the pilot said: “Being a daughter of Odisha, I express my immense joy and pride in being able to carry out this huge mission.”
“I thank the Odia society of UAE for spearheading this noble mission and bringing about so much joy for the travellers who could be united with their families on the day of the biggest Odia festival,” she said.
She added that she was looking forward to helping many more people who seek help and repatriation.
While about 85 per cent of the passengers were distressed workers, the rest comprised stranded families including pregnant women, senior citizens, people whose parents are sick or had died recently, Dr Khuntia said.
He said the society sponsored tickets of 15 deserving passengers and also partly paid for the ticket fares of some others. Each ticket was priced at Dh1,230.
“We are sincerely grateful to Capt Madhusmita for taking home all of them safe and joyous,” he said.
He also thanked the Indian Consulate, UAE and Indian authorities and volunteers for their support.