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‘They attacked my helicopter with arrows’: Commandant’s experience with Andaman tribe

The authorities are trying to recover the body of American John Chau who was killed by the Andaman tribals last week. This wasn’t the first time that the Sentinelese, have violently resisted intrusions. In 2006, Two Indian fishermen were axed by the tribals after their boat accidentally drifted near the island. Commandant Praveen Gaur had been deployed on a rescue mission.

Fully aware of the risks from the hostile tribe, Commandant Gaur decided to land his helicopter on the beach to spot the missing fishermen.  “As we were going down, we were attacked by the Sentinel tribals who were using arrows that were coming up to a height of 100 feet,” says Commandant Gaur.

He implemented plan B and flew his helicopter, slowly, about 1.5 kilometres away from the fishermen’s boat to divert the islanders to another location. The Sentinel hunters chased the chopper along the beach. When they were reasonably far from the boat, Commandant Gaur quickly flew back to his original location.

“Once I landed near the boat, I could make out two ‘heaps’ in the sand. Our people found the remains of one man who appeared to have been strangled by a rope which was from their own boat. Before they dug up the other heap, the hunters were returning.” Hastily taking off, Commandant Gaur flew back to Port Blair to return the body to relatives of the fishermen. But his mission was far from over.

 “I was told to bring the other body. When we went back, they were aware of our previous trick and split into two groups, one ran towards our chopper while the other guarded the body and the boat.” The situation was critical again as arrows shot past the Coast Guard helicopter. With no option left, and to protect his own crew, Commandant Gaur aborted the mission without retrieving the second body.

Commandant Praveen Gaur was awarded the Tatrakshak Medal for Gallantry on Independence Day, 2006. The Sentinelese are assumed to be direct descendants of the earliest humans who emerged from Africa. Their numbers are believed to be less than 150 and as low as 40.

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