Attari: Scores of people assembled at the Attari Joint Check Post (JCP) here on Friday to receive Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman who is likely to be released by Pakistani authorities soon.
People started arriving in Attari, around 30 km from Sikh holy city of Amritsar, since 6 a.m. Their numbers swelled by 9 a.m.
"We have come here to welcome our country's hero back home. We will give him a grand welcome. He showed a lot of bravery in the air combat and even after being captured by the Pakistanis," Jitender, a resident of Amritsar, who arrived here with his friends, said.
Abhinandan's parents, Air Marshal S. Varthaman (Retired) and mother Shobha Varthaman, who is a doctor, were cheered by passengers when they boarded a flight from Chennai to New Delhi on Thursday evening. They are expected to be in Attari to welcome their son back home.
The 35-year-old Wing Commander was captured on Wednesday by Pakistan after his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet was hit by Pakistan Air Force jets near the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Sources said that the pilot is likely to be brought by Pakistani authorities from Rawalpindi to Lahore and handed over first to the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) under rules of the Geneva Convention before being brought to the JCP on Friday afternoon.
The Border Security Force (BSF), which mans the JCP and the 553-km long International Border with Pakistan in Punjab at high alert, Punjab Police and other security agencies stationed additional personnel since early Friday morning.
Varthaman will be debriefed by defence and security officials after his return before he is taken to New Delhi from the Amritsar airport.
"Many celebrities and other important people come to Attari border on different occasions. But today, a real hero is coming back. We will give him a a big and warm welcome with dhol and bhangra," Manjit Singh, who was carrying a dhol, said.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Thursday that the captured IAF pilot will be freed as a "goodwill gesture" after New Delhi sought his unconditional, immediate and unharmed release.