New Delhi: Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who had shot down a Pakistani F-16 near the Line of Control (LoC) in February resulting in his capture and subsequent release by Islamabad, is likely to be decorated with the Vir Chakra, India's top military honour, defence sources said on Thursday.
Along with Abhinandan, pilots of the five Mirage-2000 fighter jets, who had dropped bombs on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror launch-pad in Balakot area in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunhkwa province, are also likely to be decorated with Vayu Sena medals.
"The final list of gallantry awardees will get the nod from President Ram Nath Kovind on August 14. Only after the list has been formally approved by the President can we disclose the names of awardees to the general public," a senior Indian Air Force official told IANS.
Abhinandan had strayed into Pakistan territory after shooting down the F-16 during a dogfight that had taken place on February 27. His own aircraft, a MiG-21 Bison, had been hit by a missile forcing him to eject from the fighter jet before it crashlanded in Pakistan.
Pakistani security forces had captured Abhinandan, but released him to India around 60 hours later at the Wagah border.
The bombing of the JeM terror facility in Balakot was carried out by India in retaliation of a terror strike in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama on February 14 in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed.
The Vir Chakra is the third highest wartime military award in India.