Transporting live suspected samples was unprecedented challenge

Shashwat Gupta Ray
Monday, 11 May 2020

“Carriage of live suspected samples was an unprecedented challenge since the thought of carrying a live virus sample in close proximity of individuals who are currently unaffected by the deadly disease was unsettling."

PANAJI: Carriage of live suspected samples was an unprecedented challenge for the pilots and crew of INAS 310 which airlifted the consignment to NIV Pune since the thought of carrying a live virus sample in close proximity of individuals who are currently unaffected by the deadly disease was unsettling.

“All the aircrew and ground crew are always at the highest levels of training and readiness for any such requirements commensurate to their experience in the Naval service. However, taking cognizance of the critical nature of the mission, a careful combination of crew was worked out, catering for a judicious mix of experience and the requirement to expose all aircrew to the conduct of such critical missions,” the pilots of the Dornier aircraft said.

The crew needed for undertaking the sortie had to be calm, composed and had to be well versed with the emergency and contingency procedures including a thorough knowledge about the zone of air operations and the airfields involved. The first sortie and the subsequent such missions demanded absolute precision and zero possibility of errors.

Goa Naval Area Fights Covid-19

·         The Navy is ready to extend help in every possible way.

·         Airlifted samples for testing test kits and Doctors/ Technicians.

·         Essential provisions were made available to around 200 families

·         2.2 tons of provisions distributed through local MLAs/ civic bodies and cooked food for 350 migrant labourers for over two weeks.

·         Undertaking a blood donation camp shortly as there is a shortage of blood in hospitals.

“Carriage of live suspected samples was an unprecedented challenge since the thought of carrying a live virus sample in close proximity of individuals who are currently unaffected by the deadly disease was unsettling. The initial idea was to plan out a strategy which enabled us to safely complete the task of carrying the suspected samples while at the same time ensuring the safety of the team of the health dept staff and the crew itself from the virus,” the pilots informed.

Multiple discussions of the crew with supervisory staff of the squadron were undertaken in order to decide where the samples will be stowed onboard, how to safely secure the samples during the transit etc. A special briefing was undertaken for the health dept staff taking passage to make them familiar with the aircraft in which they were educated about all the emergency procedures in case of any eventuality.

“Owing to the health risk involved for these particular missions, it was well understood that apart from the regular procedures, the crew had to take adequate precautions to ensure safe carriage of live blood samples and hence everything had to be error free,” the pilots added.

Due precautions were taken for personal safety of crew by ensuring the availability of essential personal protection equipment, and for the first time the sortie was undertaken wearing face masks and surgical gloves instead of flying gloves

“Measures were taken to sanitize the aircraft before and after the sortie to kill any residual infection. During the transit, social distancing was maintained within the aircraft for the personnel carried onboard by adequately placing their seats at a suitable distance as feasible in the aircraft cabin space. Moreover the aircraft was flown at safe and comfortable altitudes wherein the pressure changes in the cockpit and cabin spaces were lesser than minimized air circulation,” the pilots informed.

 The squadron as a whole has undertaken 33 sorties towards COVID requirements, relentlessly flying a total of over 60 hours since the outbreak of the pandemic. The crew has flown to different airfields all across the country landing at locations such Pune, Mumbai, Nagpur, Kochi, Kanpur and Lucknow to name a few.

Although the mission was fraught with serious health risk, the only thought in the minds of pilots and air crew was with respect to safety about the team of doctors and the crew itself who were a part of the sortie as well as the safe carriage of blood samples from suspected individuals.

“Adequate measures in terms of personal protection and containment of virus were taken in case of any mishap during the course of the flight. But we were confident and determined in our minds to accomplish the tasks at hand,” they said.

A regular check on doctors during the course of flight was also done in order to ensure that their comfort since flying in a military aircraft is not a common occurrence for civilians. Further the aircrew also discussed and tied up with the destination airfield on radio regarding cargo carried onboard containing live samples and requirement of the same to be safely disembarked and transported to the virology lab along with the doctors.

“It was indeed an honour to be chosen to carry out such a mission and to live up to the expectations of the State Government and our country in the hour of need in keeping with the Indian Navy’s clarion call of ‘Har Kaam Desh Ke Naam’. As a part of the Armed Forces, it is our primary duty to stand up in support the nation’s call as and when required. So apart from being happy on completion of this task, a sense of satisfaction also dawned within us that we were actually able to help and contribute towards fighting this pandemic as COVID-19 warriors,” the pilots said.

Speaking on their key learning’s from this operation, they said the squadron has gained experience in terms of specific precautions and additional checks and procedures which need to be undertaken while carrying out any such missions in the future.

“This definitely would enable us to be even more efficient and faster in our response next time. New procedures have been developed by the squadron personnel in terms of disinfecting the aircraft as well as surroundings via fumigation, having a concept of isolating aircraft onboard equipment for individual aircrew to undertake the missions,” the pilots said. (Series concluded)

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