Ivan Joseph Crasto:
A tense, nerve racking rescue operation in October 1992 had made headlines back then. Timber Trail, a well-known and popular mountain resort on the Chandigarh-Shimla Highway faced one of its worst tragedies. The main attraction here is the cable car ride from the resort at the base of the mountain to the top which was popularly acknowledged as “Eight minutes of pure adulterated excitement”... but unfortunately, that fateful day, when the cable car hurtled down towards the base station, all hell broke loose. The cable car ground to a halt halfway down, and was dangling high above the valley.
The daring rescue at Timber Trail of 10 hapless tourists who were left trapped in a cable car dangling 1500 feet above the ravines in Himachal Pradesh was yet another feather in the cap for the Parachute Regiment and the Indian Air Force. Major Ivan Joseph Crasto (later Colonel), the hero of ‘Timber Trail Rescue’, was awarded the Kirti Chakra and Group Capt. (later Air Chief Marshal) F.H. Major of the 152 Helicopter Unit (HU), IAF the Shaurya Chakra. With the aircraft precariously hovering in the buffeting mountain winds in the deep valley, Major Crasto abseiled down on to the stranded car, to rescue each of the 10 tourists, one by one, in an extraordinary mid-air show of exemplary courage and determination.
Not all men in uniform lead such exciting lives. Col. Ivan Crasto’s life has been more action-packed than much of the fiction one sees on TV. He’s the only Goan, quite possibly the only Indian, to have been honoured for exemplary courage by three Indian states, and the Indian Army. He has been with his unit in operations, in the North-East counter-insurgency, with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka (he opted to go there when his son was but five days old, because his unit had taken casualties and he just had to be back with his boys), Kashmir and the war in Kargil.
Ivan Crasto might have become a lawyer if his father, a naval officer hadn’t coerced him into following his elder brother into the National Defence Academy. Ivan did his schooling from St. Mary's High School, Mount Abu, Rajasthan and is from the Class of 1973. On 10 June ’78 he was commissioned into the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (Commando). Besides topping the Commando course, he was also the Best YO (Young Officer), with top grades in all the professional courses. He was an experienced combat free-faller, and he had just returned after completing a specialised course in the USSR and had participated in the National Sky-Diving Championships. In 1990, he was posted as an Instructor at The Tanzania Military Academy, and toured Africa, Europe, Canada and the USA. After graduating from the Defence Services Staff College, he spent three years at the Army headquarters in the Military Operations Directorate where according to him, “There was never a dull moment." He took over command of 21 PARA (Special Forces), which saw him in the thick of action when he led the unit in the Kargil war. The unit has the unique distinction of being the only unit deployed in every sector of Kargil.
The rescue: Once the Army and the Air Force got the green light, a team of 1 Para Commando led by Maj Ivan Crasto and helicopters from 152 HU moved to the site. Maj Crasto abseiled from the helicopter on to the dangling cable-car, where he had to balance himself on a large greasy tray-like platform, gripping the edges with his bare hands to prevent him from falling to a sure death. The helicopter hovering above created strong air currents and the cable swung like a pendulum, with the sharp, chilly wind of a Himalayan October biting into his fingers. One by one the tourists were winched up from the cable car to the hovering aircraft above. Each time he touched the metal winch cable, he was exposed to a sharp static electrical shock for which he had to brace himself. As night fell, the rescue operations of the rest of the tourists had to be put off till the next morning. He opted to stay the freezing night in the cable car which was stinking with urine and excreta to keep the morale of the trapped tourists high. Wrapped in torn seat covers to keep themselves warm, the stranded tourists placed implicit trust in him as he chatted with them easily to keep them calm. Crasto did this voluntarily, because he thought it was the right thing to do. Of course he had said that this couldn’t have been possible without the outstanding support of the young chopper pilot who risked his life making those extremely difficult sorties.
The states of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Goa, have honoured him for saving the tourists in the incident noted above) and he did that single-handedly with the close support of the helicopter pilot who did an excellent job indeed himself. He says that it was the most satisfying thing he had ever done.
After having served the country for over two decades, Ivan retired from the Army and decided to put his potential and talent to use in the Civvy Street. He initially moved to Goa where his roots were and where he wanted his children to grow up. He has since moved to Sydney, Australia and is teaching maths at Western Sydney High School.
Ivan believes that a good foundation built on discipline, and strong principles is what makes one competent anywhere and in anything that one does. He says that they were trained to make things happen, not to wait and watch. He also strongly believes every child should get a substantial measure of adventure sports and character building, because in the long run it is these, not mere text books, which help fulfill life’s dreams.
Hi Rashmi Oberoi,
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