Caught in the India-Pakistan Crossfire

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I was in a Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter along with about ten journalists from CNN, the BBC, AP and other news outlets, being taken to the site where India yesterday shot down a Pakistani plane. We were flying over an exquisite but weird landscape, that has been turned into hundreds of miles of waterlogged marshland by the monsoons. From the air it would be impossible to tell where one country ends and the other begins, which may explain how some of these incidents happen.

We were looking for signs of the wreckage when the pilot suddenly banked crazily to the left, and the chopper dropped about 100 yards in five seconds. We were really startled, but nobody told us what had happened. Besides, the chopper was too noisy to allow conversation. But even when we got back to the base, the pilot initially denied that we’d been under attack. They were under orders not to say anything. Eventually they let on that the Pakistanis had fired a missile -– which Pakistan later confirmed. We were about 2 miles away from the border, and the missile exploded in the air about a quarter mile ahead of us. The pilots of the choppers following behind ours saw a plume of smoke and the explosion, which they say are tell-tale signs of a surface-to-air missile. If they’d waited another minute or two before firing, we’d have been hit. But the Pakistanis may have fired early to warn us off entering the area.

Our pilot took evasive action, because the choppers weren’t carrying even defensive systems such as flares to distract heat-seeking missiles -- although it was only back at the base that we discovered how close we’d come to being hit. When I got back to the office, I learned that our stringer in Karachi had been taken to the area on a similar trip by the Pakistani military. So there was a reporter from TIME on the Pakistani side when we were fired on. As always, we’re covering both sides.