After spending nearly 60 hours in Pakistan's captivity, Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned to India. And this is no ordinary return. Abhinandan held his head high as he walked into India through the Wagah-Attari border with his chest swelling with pride and a smile on his face.
On Friday, the whole country celebrated the homecoming of the IAF pilot with - what else? - tricolours, garlands, and cameras to give Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman a hero's welcome.
A day after he returned to India, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met him at a hospital in Delhi, where the IAF pilot had been taken last night for a medical check-up after his arrival in India from Pakistan's territory. Sitharaman conveyed to him that the entire nation is proud of his courage and determination.
Abhinandan explained to the Defence Minister his near 60-hour captivity in Pakistan, as per news reports. In the above picture, we can see Sitharaman speaking with the IAF hero in his hospital room. The Air Force pilot, who walked into India from the Attari-Wagah border from Pakistan wearing a blue blazer and white shirt last night, underwent a series of medical tests as part of a "cooling down" process. He could be seen wearing his uniform in hospital today.
The Wing Commander is at the Air Force Central Medical Establishment (AFCME), a compact and specialised medical evaluation centre for aircrew of all the three services. Once, the health check-up phase is over, debriefing sessions will be arranged for him, a news agency reported.
Early Saturday morning, Varthaman met his family members as well as several top officials of the Indian Air Force.
The 35-year-old Air Force pilot was captured on Wednesday while flying a MiG-21 Bison fighter in a dogfight with Pakistani aircraft. Media reports state that the Wing Commander had brought down PAF's F-16 jet before his aircraft was brought down.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's decision to return the pilot marked a dramatic shift in mood after the two countries engaged in an aerial clash on Wednesday for the first time since 1971.
A TIMELINE OF EVENTS
Tension mounted between arch-rivals India and Pakistan after Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed over 40 CRPF jawans in Jammu and Kasmir's Pulwama district on February 14.
In retaliation, India carried out a pre-dawn airstrike on a JeM terror camp in Balakot sector at 3:30 am, killing 200-300 terrorists.
A day after, Pakistan Air Force jets entered Indian airspace near LoC and dropped bombs in the country's territory.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured on February 27 after his MiG-21 Bison was hit by the Pakistan Army across the Line of Control (LoC).
On Thursday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that Abhinandan would be released Friday as a "peace gesture".