The fighter pilot was in the heat of a dogfight that took place on 27 February when Pakistani aeroplanes reportedly crossed into Indian airspace. He allegedly shot down his rival's F-16 fighter before his own Soviet-made MiG-21 Bison supersonic jet fighter was shot down and crashed into Pakistani territory. He was captured by Pakistani forces and later released after 60 hours of detention.
New Delhi secured his release after two days of detention by the Pakistani Army.
The 27 February dogfight was a buildup from the 14 February Pulwama terror attack allegedly carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in which more than 40 Indian soldiers died. India responded with airstrikes against alleged JeM terror camps on Pakistani soil on 26 February. Pakistan's Air Force retaliated with its own airstrike during which the dogfight involving Wing Commander Abhinandan took place.
India honours the valour of its troops by decorating them with gallantry awards for exceptional bravery and courage. Post-independence, three gallantry awards were instituted by the government – Param Vir Chakra, Maha Vir Chakra and Vir Chakra with several other awards later instituted.