Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman (now Group Captain) shot down the Pakistani F-16 jet during an aerial combat before his MiG 21 Bison aircraft was hit on February 27, 2019. He was captured by the Pakistani Army and later released on the night of March 1.
He was conferred with the Vir Chakra award by President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday for displaying an “exceptional sense of duty” in the dogfight. Vir Chakra is India’s third-highest wartime gallantry award after Param Vir Chakra and Maha Vir Chakra.
“Pakistan categorically rejects the entirely baseless Indian claims that a Pakistani F-16 aircraft was shot down by an Indian pilot” in February 2019, the Foreign Office said in a statement.
“The international experts and US officials have already confirmed that no Pakistani F-16 was shot down on the day, after taking stock of Pakistani F-16 aircraft, it claimed.
The pilot’s release “was a testimony of Pakistan’s desire for peace despite India’s hostility and ill-conceived aggressive action,” it added.
In the early hours of February 26, 2019, the IAF jets bombed the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror camps in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan and avenged the Pulwama terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 40 CRPF personnel.
An intense aerial confrontation ensued between both countries the next day, in which the Indian pilot was captured and later released by Pakistan.
The strike by India’s warplanes on a JeM terrorist training camp in Balakot and the Pakistan Air Force’s subsequent retaliation the next day triggered fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.