Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas Shaheed, (February 17, 1951 – August 20, 1971) was a Pilot in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Minhas, a newly commissioned officer at that time (1971), is the only PAF officer to receive the highest valour award, the Nishan-e-Haider. He is also the youngest person and the shortest-serving officer to have received this award. He is remembered for his death in 1971 in a jet trainer crash while struggling to regain the controls from a defecting pilot: flight instructor Matiur Rahman.
Early life and education
Rashid Minhas was born on February 17, 1951, in Karachi. He was born to a Rajput Bengali family and belonging to the Minhas clan predominantly found in Northern Punjab and in Kashmir regions. Rashid Minhas spent his early childhood in Lahore. Later, the family shifted to Rawalpindi. Minhas had his early education from St Mary’s Cambridge School Rawalpindi. Later his family shifted to Karachi. Minhas was fascinated with aviation history and technology. He used to collect different models of aircraft and jets. He also attended Greenwood Secondary School, Karachi.
Having joined the air force, Minhas was commissioned on March 13, 1971, in the 51st GD(P) Course. He began training to become a pilot. On August 20 of that year, in the hour before noon, he was getting ready to take off in a T-33 jet trainer in Karachi, his second solo flight in that type of aircraft. Minhas was taxiing toward the runway when a Bengali instructor pilot, Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman, signalled him to stop and then climbed into the instructor’s seat. The jet took off and turned toward India.
Minhas radioed PAF Base Masroor with the message that he was being hijacked. The air controller requested that he resend his message, and he confirmed the hijacking. Later investigation showed that Rahman intended to defect to India to join his compatriots in the Bangladesh Liberation War, along with the jet trainer. In the air, Minhas struggled physically to wrest control from Rahman; each man tried to overpower the other through the mechanically linked flight controls. Some 32 miles (51 km) from the Indian border, the jet crashed near Thatta. Both men were killed.
Minhas was posthumously awarded Pakistan’s top military honour, the Nishan-E-Haider, and became the youngest man and the only member of the Pakistan Air Force to win the award. Similarly, Rahman was honoured by Bangladesh with their highest military award, the Bir Sreshtho.
Minhas’s Pakistan military citation for the Nishan-E-Haider states that he “forced the aircraft to crash” in order to prevent Rahman from taking the jet to India. This is the official, popular and widely known version of how Minhas died. Yawar A. Mazhar, a writer for Pakistan Military Consortium, relayed in 2004 that he spoke to retired PAF Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry about Minhas, and that he learned more details not generally known to the public. According to Mazhar, Chaudhry lead the immediate task of investigating the wreckage and writing the accident report. Chaudhry told Mazhar that he found the jet had hit the ground nose first, instantly killing Minhas in the front seat. Rahman’s body, however, was not in the jet and the canopy was missing. Chaudhry searched the area and saw Rahman’s body some distance behind the jet, the body found with severe abrasions from hitting the sand at a low angle and a high speed. Chaudhry thought that Minhas probably jettisoned the canopy at low altitude causing Rahman to be thrown from the cockpit because he was not strapped in. Chaudhry felt that the jet was too close to the ground at that time, too far out of control for Minhas to be able to prevent the crash.
After his death, Minhas was honoured as a national hero. In his memory the Pakistan Air Force base at Kamra was renamed PAF Base Minhas, often called Minhas-Kamra. In Karachi he was honoured by the naming of a main road, Rashid Minhas Road (Urdu: شاہراہ راشد منہاس). A two-rupee postage stamp bearing his image was issued by Pakistan Post in December 2003; 500,000 were printed.
Awards and decorations
- Nishan-e-Haider (NH)