Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman sent a radio message – “R-73 selected” – from his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet seconds before firing the Vympel R-73 air-to-air missile at the Pakistani F-16 jet, The Times of India reported.
Abhinandan managed to transmit the message before his MiG-21 was downed in a dogfight and ejected himself over Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The Indian Air Force claimed that the Pakistani F-16 was also shot down, but Islamabad has denied even scrambling any F-16s.
“The R-73 is better in such a melee. This is probably the first time a Russian-origin MiG-21 has shot down an American F-16 anywhere in the world”, one officer was cited as saying.
Shortly after he landed and was captured by Pakistani troops, a video was unearthed on social media ostensibly showing them protecting Abhinandan from a furious crowd, apparently demanding that he be handed over to them.
The video emerged shortly before his release and handover to Indian authorities as a “peace gesture” and prompted outrage on social media, as many believed the video had been recorded under duress, and heavily edited in order to tailor it to Islamabad’s agenda. The footage has also been cited as a reason for postponing his return to India.
Most recently, ANI news agency cited an anonymous source as saying that the pilot told the IAF that although he had not been subjected to physical violence, he had suffered “a lot of mental harassment” during his captivity. He spent some 58 hours there before his release on 1 March.
Tensions between India and Pakistan were exacerbated after the IAF conducted an air raid against an alleged training camp of the Pakistani-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed; the latter claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a convoy with Indian security forces on 14 February that killed over 40 soldiers.