The British Airways pilots flying an aircraft packed with 27 tonnes of medical aid to India have hailed the hard work that has gone into getting the flight off the ground.
The airline said the load included hundreds of oxygen cylinders, plus respirators, blood oxygen saturation monitors and care packages.
A total of 1,349 items of aid had been provided by the High Commission of India in London and several charities.
The Boeing 777-200 aircraft took off from Heathrow at 5pm on Wednesday for the eight-hour journey to Delhi.
British Airways and its sister company IAG Cargo will cover the costs of the specially chartered flight.
Many hospitals in India are suffering from a shortage of oxygen supplies as coronavirus cases in the country surge.
Allister Bridger, director of flight operations at British Airways, said: “This is an incredible flight that has been chartered by British Airways to take medical aid so badly needed to India.
“We’ve all seen what’s going on and the situation there, and it’s just wonderful that so many people have come together to put this flight together.”
Admitting that he was getting emotional, Bridger added: “It means so much. We’ve seen everything that’s going on.
“We’ve all been been struck by Covid, everyone, you know, my family too, so it means so much to be able to do this.
“My family, my mother … so proud that I’m flying this, and so privileged to be able to do it and be at the front end of so much.”
He said the amount of help had been “incredible”, adding: “I think it’s so important for British Airways because we have a huge history with India.
“We’ve been serving India for years. Lots of our colleagues work there or they have families connected with India, so there is that huge connection with the BA family, and as you know British Airways is a family and we’re all feeling what’s going on in India, so it’s so good that we can do this.”
Minesh Patel, a captain with British Airways, said people had been “burning the midnight oil” to get the plane ready.
Before take-off, he said: “Once the doors are shut, all the guys will be engaged in the flight deck to try and fly this vital cargo as fast as possible to Delhi.”
Patel added: “I’ve been flying for BA for 32 years and in all my time, the great thing about working for BA is that it’s always acted like a family.
“We have people across all cultures, and also many people who have their heritage in India, and we all know that they have a great deal of care and concern for our connection with people in India and they’ve all pulled together in today’s effort, burning the midnight oil to make sure that this flight is ready to launch … ”
British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said: “The British Airways family has been deeply affected by the terrible scenes in India of the deepening humanitarian crisis that has impacted the lives of many of our people.
“We are fortunate to be in a position to help transport aid and I am so proud of the volunteers from across the airline and IAG Cargo who have stepped up to make this happen.
“We continue to stand with our friends in India as the country endures one of the worst crises it has ever known.”