An Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft with 29 people on board, including six crew members, went missing on Friday morning over the Bay of Bengal. A full-scale joint Search and Rescue Operation (SAR) has been launched by the IAF, Navy and the Coast Guard, but there was no success in locating the aircraft till the time of going to the press late on Friday.
Sixteen ships, six aircraft and one submarine are tracking the upgraded Russian-made military transport aircraft, AN-32, which got airborne at 8.30 am from Tambaram IAF base. It carried six crew members (that included three officers), 11 other IAF personnel (including an officer), two Army jawans, one Coast Guard sailor, one Navy sailor and eight naval civilians.
The aircraft was to land at Port Blair at 11.30 am, but according to sources, plunged from 23,000 feet into the Bay of Bengal sea, 280 kilometres east of Chennai. The aircraft lost radar contact at 9.12am and the last call the pilot made to the Air Traffic Control (ATC) was 16 minutes after the take-off, sources added.
Navy PRO in Delhi Captain DK Sharma said, “Two P8i Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft with advanced Electro-optics and radars, two Dornier aircraft, one submarine and twelve ships with integral helicopters have joined the search operations” adding that the SAR operations will be carried out without a break.
He said four ships of the Eastern Naval Command, which were deployed in the Bay of Bengal on different missions, had been diverted to the search area and eight ships of Eastern Fleet which were on return passage from the South China Sea were pressed into SAR. “A submarine at sea was also diverted to the area for locating the transmissions from emergency locator beacon onboard the aircraft,” he said.
The twin-engine aircraft, which was on a routine courier sortie, has an endurance up to four hours, that is, it can fly for that period without refuelling.
AN 32s, considered a workhorse for IAF are in use here since 1984. Nearly 100 of them are with the IAF currently. They are extremely efficient ones that can take off and land from small air strips and forms the lifeline of both military and civilian supplies in remote parts of the country.