Meet the Mangalorean pilot who volunteered to fly back 177 Indians stranded abroad

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On Thursday, all decked up with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), Michael Saldanha and the crew flew about 177 passengers from Dubai at 5.30pm and reached Kozhikode on the same night. Being one of the first pilots of Air India airlines to be a part of Operation Vande Bharath, the flight commander and his crew received a standing ovation from all sections of people at the airport.

At 36-Michael Saldanha, was among the pilots who volunteered to bring back the stranded Indian people back home. Hailing from Mangaluru, and finishing his Pre University College (PUC) at  St. Aloysius College, Michael said that he completed his Bachelors of Engineering (B.E) at RV College of Engineering, Bengaluru. Michael has over 11-years of flying experience under his wings.

Speaking to the Solmelu reporter, Michael said he was only doing his duty to the people and country. “When you know many of our people and families are stranded in countries abroad, it is but natural to respond to such emergency distress. It a patriotic duty.” Michael said.

Michael in (Yellow T-shirt) at Crave

According to Michael, the first glimpse of Air India flight and its crew was very emotional to many Indian people in Dubai Airport, who for months had stayed away from their families. The pilot said that several people stranded in the gulf-countries had gone on a tourist visa, vacation; and there were also pregnant ladies among the passengers. Given the pandemic nature of the virus, the flight crew followed every precaution in the flight manual to ensure that there is no transmission of the virus on-board. There was eagerness and excitement on everyone’s faces to get back home. “The feeling was mutual, but following the COVID-19 protocol, the crew was directed not to mingle with anyone and we had to control our emotions and act with caution,” he said.

But on reaching Kozhikode, flight commander Michael Saldanha along with his crew received a standing ovation both from the passengers and the police, and other staff-in-charge at the airport. “Their happiness and their reaction was overwhelming and it will remain in our memories forever,” Michael said.

Being one of the first airlines to evacuate stranded passengers, Michael and his crew got extensive media coverage. However, following the brief celebration – Michael had to get into a self-quarantine for three days. “The first test came negative, but I need to be on quarantine for few more days,” he said

On being asked, what inspired him to be a pilot – Michael said it was destiny. “I did my mechanical engineering and was working in a french company. So Air India came up with an ad that they wanted engineers to become pilots. So I applied for that. It was an all India recruitment. Out of 30,000 engineers, 100 were selected and sent to the USA for training. So, that is why I say I didn’t dream of becoming a pilot someday. It just happened that way,” he said.

Besides flying, Michael said that he loves cooking and also a partner in the famed chain of Crave Desserts and Bakes, that he started in 2014. “When I’m not flying, you can find me cooking, baking and managing Craves or maybe just taking a walk down the beach with my pit bull (dog) Sheeba-, she is around 11-year old,” he said.

Post the quarantine – Michael said that he wants to reunite with his family.

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