The eagle had landed. A flight of four hours and forty-four minutes from wheels up at Agra to the runway at Hulhule had safely touched down, within just sixteen hours of the first phone call being received in Delhi from the Maldives. It was time for some live action.
The Indian high commissioner by his side, Bulsara was now in the thick of the action. There were sounds of sporadic gunfire and the occasional thud of high explosives coming from a distance. In the melee of soldiers rushing out, he had been separated from Bhatia. The other officers, thoroughly briefed, were all on their way to their assigned tasks. The initial parties fanned out to secure the airport and the terminal. As the first aircraft turned around and took off, the second IL-76 landed, and took off less than five minutes later. The troops from the second plane secured the ATC, jetty, fuel jetty and the northern and southern ends of the airfield.
Through some tall grass and broken ground, Bulsara headed for the terminal building along with his batman and the radio operator. He found Bhatia there, along with the officers who had landed in the second aircraft. Bhatia informed Bulsara that one of their teams had just beaten a group of mercenaries to the jetty, who were even then attempting to land there and take control of the boats.
This was one of the what-ifs that had worried Bulsara and his team - the journey to Malé. What if there were no dhonis at Hulhule, or what if there were no boatmen? They would then have had to wait for the army boats to fetch up in one of the later flights. That would have delayed the operation and handed over the advantage to the mercenaries.
Chordia, who had got down along with another colleague to guide a paradrop over a DZ if required later, moved to the ATC. As soon as the troops had control of the ATC, they tried to establish radio contact with the President at his secret location in Malé. This was done through a loyal Maldivian official at the ATC who had transmitted the password to the IL-76 and switched on the runway lights for landing.
Banerjee was the first to speak to the President. 'I greeted the President briefly, and informed him that India had taken immediate steps to come forward to help him in response to his urgent appeal. I then handed the mike to Brigadier Bulsara.'
The President implored Bulsara to hurry up, as the rebels had surrounded his safe house and he could hear firing close by. Bulsara told the President, 'Mr President, the Indian army has arrived and will do its best.'
Excerpted with permission of Juggernaut Books from Operation Cactus: Mission Impossible in the Maldives by Sushant Singh exclusively available on the Juggernaut app.