On 29 March 1949, authorities lost radio contact with a plane carrying Patel, his daughter Manibehn and the Maharaja of Patiala. Engine failure caused the pilot to make an emergency landing in a desert area in Rajasthan. With all passengers safe, Patel and others tracked down a nearby village and local officials.
When Patel returned to Delhi, thousands of Congressmen gave him a resounding welcome. In Parliament, MPs gave a long, standing ovation to Patel, stopping proceedings for half an hour. In his twilight years, Patel was honored by members of Parliament and awarded honorary doctorates of laws by the Punjab University and Osmania University.
Patel’s health declined rapidly through the summer of 1950. He later began coughing blood, whereupon Manibehn · began limiting his meetings and working hours and arranged for a personalised medical staff to begin attending to Patel. The Chief Minister of West Bengal and doctor Bidhan Roy heard Patel make jokes about his impending end, and in a private meeting Patel frankly admitted to his ministerial colleague N. V. Gadgil that he was not going to live much longer.
Patel’s health worsened after 2 November, when he began losing consciousness frequently and was confided to his bed. He was flown to Mumbai on 12 December to recuperate at his son Dahyabhai’s flat-his condition deemed critical, Nehru and Rajagopalachari came to the airport to see him off. After suffering a massive heart attack (his second), he died on 15 December 1950.
In an unprecedented and unrepeated gesture, on the day after his death more than 1,500 officers of India’s civil and police services congregated to mourn at Patel’s residence in Delhi and pledged “complete loyalty and unremitting zeal” in India’s service. His cremation in Sonapur, Mumbai, was attended by large crowds, Nehru, Rajagopalachari, President Prasad, and many Congressmen and ‘freed.om fighters.