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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
India 'restores' tsunami-hit base
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Car Nicobar

Indian transport plane
The base is set to be declared combat-ready in a few days
The Indian air force base on the island of Car Nicobar has been fully restored after suffering heavy damage in last December's tsunami, officials say.

A spokesman said the air force and navy is conducting an exercise to show the base is again ready for use.

Jaguar and SU-30 fighter jets took off from the rebuilt base to the cheers of Indian sailors and airmen, he said.

Car Nicobar, though ravaged, proved its worth as a base during the relief operation after the tsunami.

Indian air-force transport planes and helicopters pounded the runway day and night with tonnes of supplies, and then flew sorties over remote islands to drop them, until the harbours were repaired to allow ships to return.

More than 140 air force personnel and their family members were killed in the tsunami and the entire living quarters were washed away.

Restoring morale

Cdr Salil Mehta, a spokesman of the Andaman and Nicobar Command, said the joint exercise by the air force and the navy "signalled the complete restoration" of the base.

Tsunami damage on Car Nicobar
The effects of the tsunami are still visible around the base

Gp Capt VV Bandopadhyay, who was commander of the base when the disaster struck on 26 December, said the exercise would restore morale.

"We were all so depressed after the tsunami," he said.

Capt Bandopadhyay was one of the few air force officials who survived the waves.

He is now serving at the Indian military's eastern headquarters at Calcutta's Fort William, leading an air force liaison cell.

Indian air chief SK Tyagi ordered all those who were present at the Car Nicobar airbase on the day of the tsunami to be relocated so that they could get over their trauma.

Formal declaration

Cdr Mehta said the military exercise showed India was again ready to defend its Indian Ocean frontline.

Transport and fighter jets had been sent to the base, he said, and the exercise had included an in-flight refuelling.

"This marks the restoration of long-haul operations at the Car Nicobar base," he said.

Mr Tyagi is expected to arrive at the base on 14 April to declare it combat fit.




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