How DK Jatar got the Ashok Chakra

Bapurao’s youngest son was D.K. Jatar, known as Annakaka in the family. Annakaka was the grandson of Shriram Bhikaji Jatar.

Annakaka was the first civilian in India to be posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra award for “most conspicuous bravery, daring and self-sacrifice”. He was the Captain of the plane which crashed after sabotage in mysterious circumstances and his role here was a heroic one. As a family, we are all extremely proud of him. He was my father’s first cousin, which makes him my uncle.

The story goes thus:

He was the Captain of the ill-fated plane – the Kashmir Princess. The plane was a Lockheed L-749A Constellation aircraft owned by Air India which exploded in midair and crashed into the Pacific Ocean on April 11, 1955, while en route from Bombay, India and Hong Kong to Jakarta, Indonesia. 16 of those on board were killed; three survived. Here is the historical record.

The aircraft departed Hong Kong at 0425 GMT carrying Chinese and Eastern European delegates, mainly journalists, to the Asia-Afro Bandung Conference in Jakarta. At approximately 0925 GMT the crew heard an explosion; smoke quickly entered the cabin from a fire on the right wing directly behind the No. 3 (or right inboard) engine. Upon hearing the explosion and seeing the fire-warning light for the baggage compartment come on, the captain shut off the No. 3 engine and feathered its propeller, fearing the engine would catch on fire. This left three engines running. The crew sent out three distress signals giving their position over the Natuna Islands before the radio went dead.

The captain tried to land the plane on the sea, but the depressurizing cabin and the failing circuits made that impossible. Additionally, smoke was seeping into the cockpit. Left with no other options, the crew issued life jackets and opened the emergency doors to ensure a quick escape as the plane plunged into the sea below.

The starboard wing struck water first, tearing the plane into three parts. The flight engineer, navigator and first officer escaped and were later found by the Indonesian Coast Guard. The remaining 16 passengers and crew members, however, drowned at sea.

Investigators believed that the explosion had been caused by a time bomb placed aboard the aircraft by a Kuomintang secret agent who was attempting to assassinate Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, who had been scheduled to board the plane to attend the conference but who had changed his travel plans at the last minute.

Passengers of the chartered flight included three staff members of the Chinese delegation to the Bandung Conference and one staff member of the delegation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The rest of the passengers were journalists — five from China, one from Poland, and one from Austria. Huang Zuomei, the Hong Kong branch director of Xinhua News Agency, was also on the aircraft.

The target of the assassination, Zhou Enlai, had planned to fly from Beijing to Hong Kong and then on to Jakarta on Kashmir Princess. An emergency appendectomy delayed his arrival in Hong Kong; he left China on April 14 and flew to Rangoon to meet with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Burmese Prime Minister U Nu before continuing on to Bandung to attend the conference.

Some historians have argued that Zhou may have known about the assassination plot beforehand and that the premier did not undergo an appendectomy at the time. Steve Tsang of Oxford University wrote in the September 1994 edition of China Quarterly, “Evidence now suggests that Zhou knew of the plot beforehand and secretly changed his travel plans, though he did not stop a decoy delegation of lesser cadres from taking his place.”

The day after the crash, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement that described the bombing as “a murder by the special service organizations of the United States and Chiang Kai-shek” while Hong Kong Governor Sir Alexander Grantham maintained that the plane was not tampered with in Hong Kong. However, on May 26, an Indonesian board of inquiry later announced that a time bomb with an American-made MK-7 detonator was responsible for the crash and it was highly probable that the bomb was installed in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong authorities offered HK$100,000 for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. They questioned 71 people connected with the servicing of the Air India flight. When police began to focus on Chow Tse-ming, a janitor for Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co., he stowed away to Taiwan on a CIA-owned Civil Air Transport aircraft.

The Hong Kong police concluded that the Kuomintang had recruited Chow to plant the bomb to kill Zhou Enlai. Apparently, he had bragged to friends about his role in the bombing and had also spent large amounts of money before he left Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Police tried to extradite Chow, but Taiwan refused and denied that Chow was a KMT agent.

Steve Tsang collected evidence from British, Taiwanese, American and Hong Kong archives that points directly to KMT agents operating in Hong Kong as the perpetrators of the aircraft bombing. According to him, the KMT had a special-operations group stationed in Hong Kong responsible for assassination and sabotage. Designated the Hong Kong Group under Major-General Kong Hoi-ping, it operated a network of 90 agents. In March 1955, the group recruited Chow for the assassination because his job at the airport gave him easy access to the Air India plane, and offered him HK$600,000 and refuge in Taiwan, if necessary.

A Chinese document declassified in 2005 also indicates that the KMT secret service was responsible for the bombing.

In addition to the KMT, there were rumours of CIA involvement in this incident as well. Aside from the fact that Chow escaped to Taiwan aboard a CIA-owned aircraft, there was no evidence that the CIA was involved until a decade later, when several Americans claimed they were involved.

Zhou Enlai was an influential figure in Communist China and the United States saw him as an obstacle in the Cold War. At the time, the West viewed the Bandung Conference as a gathering of communists and pro-communists that would boost the expansion of communism in Asia. The CIA believed that China planned to use the conference to boost its image as a world power. Although the CIA sent several agents posing as journalists to cover the conference, evidence suggests that some CIA officers might have taken further action.

In 1966, a U.S. Senate committee investigating CIA operations heard testimony that gave murky details of a CIA plot to assassinate an “East Asian leader” attending a 1955 Asian conference. That leader’s identity would remain unknown until 1977, when William Corson, a retired U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in Asia, published Armies of Ignorance identifying that leader as Zhou Enlai.

On October 24, 1967, a CIA agent John Discoe Smith defected to the Soviet Union. There, Smith accounted many of his operations in his memoirs, entitled I Was an Agent of the CIA, including his delivery of a mysterious bag to a KMT agent. He says that in 1955, Jack Curran, a CIA officer attached to the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, asked him to deliver a bag to a Wang Feng at the Maidens Hotel in the Indian capital. Smith claimed that the bag contained the bomb used to sabotage Kashmir Princess.

The captain of the plane, D.K. Jatar, who also perished in the crash, later became the first civilian to be posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra Award for “most conspicuous bravery, daring and self-sacrifice”.

The above information is taken from yawiki.org

The Wiki and reference.com contain similar information on this subject. So does this airwhiners.net site and additionally, it says:

“One hour prior to landing in Jakarta, an explosive device with a timer exploded in the starboard wheel bay, causing a fire in the #3 fuel tank. The pilot was able to successfully ditch the aircraft on the high seas near the Natuna Islands. Three crewmembers escaped the wreckage and were later rescued by the Indonesian Coast Guard. All 16 others aboard, including Captain D.K. Jatar, drowned at sea. Captain Jatar later became the first civilian to be posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra for “most conspicuous bravery, daring and self-sacrifice”. The assassination attempt on Chou En Lai was discovered to have been the work of the Taiwanese KMT, possibly with the aid of the American CIA.

Anurag Inamdar,  the great-great-great-grandson of Shriram Jatar and the son of Kaushal Inamdar, has very evocatively written about the incident of the Kashmir Princess on his blog here.

(This information has been compiled by Nita Jatar Kulkarni)

Related Reading: Capt D.K. Jatar and India’s first international flight and more about Capt. D.K. Jatar

14 thoughts on “How DK Jatar got the Ashok Chakra

  1. Thanks for this story and the details surrounding this story. I still remember the headlines in the newspapers at that time about the planecrash it must have been so hard for Annamama’s wife and children to cope with such a tragedy at such young age. Prafulla Talwalkar

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  2. I changed the title of the piece to Annakaka after I was told that his name was Annakaka and that was how he was known by one and all. In those days nicknames were the order of the day I guess.
    I shall talk to Mangala and confirm this aspect.

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  3. Before this tragedy, he was famous as one of the two pilots who flew the first ever Tata Airlines (or Air-India) flight from Mumbai to London. Capt Jatar was at the controls for the second leg of the journey, landing the plane at London. There are a few mentions of this on various websites.

    Shrirang

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  4. I Googled in looking for the basis of the CIA link and had all my ?s answered. Thanks.
    Has anything come to light regarding Chou-En Lai’s appendectomy operation?
    PS – you have a cool family.

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  5. I was 6 years old when Kashmir Princess crashed. My father too worked in Air India in the Eng’ing Dept. at Santa Cruz Airport. He too started his long career from Tata Airlines. He was deeply distressed by this tragedy as it involved innocent people.He used to be very proud of Air India.I salute Capt. Jatar on his skills as a pilot.

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  6. Captain’s (D. K.) eldest sister was married to Mr. Krishnarao Thakur of Dhantoli (in Nagpur), second son of Rao Bahadur Kashinath Kesho Thakur and younger brother of Barrister Vithal Kashinath Thakur. My grandfather (Azoba), Keshav Vithal Thakur (the first Flight Engineer of India), second son of Vithal K. Thakur, tells me “Captain used to visit Thakur’s bungalow very often. His vagabond attitude caused a lot of worry to his father. Once while at Thakur’s bungalow, he was nowhere to be found! A search party was set-up to locate him, when someone found him hidden right up in a tree – apparently he had failed his matriculation (or inter-science, one of the two) examination and he was saving himself from the impending punishment! Later, one of his father’s friends convinced his father that this boy wants to fly and given a chance he will succeed with “flying” colours. Having been left no choice apart from worrying, his father, very influential in the Government at that time, put him in Karachi Flying School and that started Captain’s illustrious career.” Azoba tells me that he was inspired to take up flying because of a beautiful experience. Azoba was in school and he had always been fascinated about flying, but once he was attending a marriage in the Jatar family and he was left speechless when an aircraft showered flowers on the marriage ceremony from heaven! It was Captain Jatar literally showering his blessings on the bride and the groom! That day itself Azoba decided that he, himself, is going to fly someday and fly he did. But his story could be the subject matter of a discussion elsewhere. He has told me about a few more incidents about this wonderful flyer. When in England, on posting, he decided to take the interviews of 3 air-hostesses in a pub! The co-interviewers – Parsis – couldn’t refuse because of his seniority, but word reached headquarters about the radically unconventional attitude of this man and very soon, he was sent official orders to return to India. Ofcourse, he still remained what he had always been – an adventurer. Once while bringing a brand new jet to India right from the manufacturing unit, as luck would have it, a sand-storm came up while the plane was somewhere in the African skies. Captain was advised by his Parsi co-pilot (Azoba will remember the name) to turn back. This account is that of Captain himself as told to Azoba. He thought turning back is surely going to cost him his job (he always remained in disfavour of the Parsi lobby) so why not land it here in the desert itself?! That would save fuel and also a lot of money. In Mumbai, on radio-communication, he could tell, from what he heard, that everbody had their hearts in their mouths. Having announced his intentions to the co-pilot, who was completely dumbstruck and at a loss for words, Captain went about the routine procedures and landed the plane safely in the sands! Imagine a brand new aircraft right in the middle of the desert! Elephants were finally hired to tow the plane to the nearest air-strip and Captain again took off, this time to land it safely on the Indian land. Phew.
    .
    Azoba was known in all of Air India for never drinking beyond his capacity. Known to be very jovial, Captain would often joke with his friends, if invited to any elite party where drinks were to be served, ” Don’t forget to invite Thakur (Azoba). Otherwise who’s going to drop us drunks home after the party?”

    – Pradeep Sanjay (Keshav) Thakur, Pune

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  7. PL CONTACT ME REGARDING CAPT DK JATAR WHO WAS A GREAT FRIEND OF MY FATHER IN-LAW CAPT PM REDDY OF DECCAN AIRWAYS HYDERABAD.I INTERVIEWED KARNIK WHO HAD VERY GOOD THINGS TO SAY ABOUT JATAR SAHEB AND HOW THEY COULD SURVIVE BECAUSE OF HIM.
    WISH I COULD SPEAK TO HIS CHILDREN IF POSSIBLE
    RGRDS
    AVIATION HISTORIAN HYDERABAD

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    1. Hi Seema, Thank you for your comment on my uncle (father’s first cousin). Yes, he was indeed a very brave person. His wife has passed away now but his three children (two daughters and one son) and their descendants live in Pune and Mumbai – Nita.

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  8. When I go through this very poignant story where Grandpa scarified his life & the fortitude displayed it gives me a sense of feeling that yes ” A brilliant Commander he was indeed!! The same goes to Pa during his years with Air India where perseverance, tenacity & the analytical skills to perform and accentuate one’s strength on a daily basis has earned him a good name..

    Being a part of the Hospitality industry where I’m still learning ( process is constant ) and imbibing the values & ethos inculcated in me has held me in good stead, An interesting read !!!

    Best Regards,

    Adit A.Jatar

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  9. Dear Jatar Family,

    My Uncle Joe Pimenta was the purser on the Kashmir Princess and sadly did not make it. I never knew him but heard only good things of him. From reading AS Karnik’s book, it was very clear that Capt Jatar did the best he could with the situation and probably saved 3 lives. I’m very happy to know his family is doing well.

    Regards,

    Ivan Menezes
    Bethesda, Maryland

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  10. just finished reading Kashmir Princess after sixty years. Last I met capt. Jatar”s co pilot Mr M C Dixit, Ashoka Chakra in Indore. His nephew is my class mate. Mr, Jatar is my hero, stay in peace up there sir

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