Pakistan released the Indian pilot as a gesture of good will several days after he was captured, with tensions between the two neighbours reaching a boiling point last month.
Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman sent a radio message – “R-73 selected” – from his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet seconds before firing the Vympel R-73 air-to-air missile at the Pakistani F-16 jet, The Times of India reported.
The Indian Pilot managed to transmit the message before his MiG-21 was downed in a dogfight and ejected himself over Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The Indian Air Force claimed that the Pakistani F-16 was also shot down, but Islamabad has denied even scrambling any F-16s.
“The R-73 is better in such a melee. This is probably the first time a Russian-origin MiG-21 has shot down an American F-16 anywhere in the world”, one officer was cited as saying.
Shortly after he landed and was captured by Pakistani troops, a video was unearthed on social media ostensibly showing them protecting Abhinandan from a furious crowd, apparently demanding that he be handed over to them.
While in custody, he was filmed praising the professionalism of the Pakistani military and blasting Indian media for fomenting “war hysteria”.
The video emerged shortly before his release and handover to Indian authorities as a “peace gesture” and prompted outrage on social media, as many believed the video had been recorded under duress, and heavily edited in order to tailor it to Islamabad’s agenda. The footage has also been cited as a reason for postponing his return to India.
Tensions between India and Pakistan were exacerbated after the IAF conducted an air raid against an alleged training camp of the Pakistani-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed; the latter claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a convoy with Indian security forces on 14 February that killed over 40 soldiers.