A massive search and rescue operation has been mounted by the IAF, the Navy and the Coast Guard. As many as 18 warships and vessels, as well as two Poseidon-8I, one C-130J Super Hercules and three Dornier aircraft, were dispatched to the choppy seas in "probable crash zone" to hunt for the missing Russia-made plane.
The twin-engine AN-32, which was from the 33 Squadron at the Sulur airbase, had a six-member crew of two pilots (Flight Lieutenant Pushpendra Badsara and Flying Officer Pankaj Kumar Nanda), a navigator (Flight Lieutenant Kunal Barpatte), a flight engineer and two technicians.
The passengers on board, who were all headed for the Tri-Service Andaman and Nicobar Islands Command, included a woman IAF officer, Flight Lieutenant Deepika Sheoran, who is married to a Coast Guard officer based in Port Blair.
The others include eight civilians from the naval armament depot in Vizag, five IAF non-combatants, four airmen, two Army soldiers, a defence security corps jawan and a sailor each from Navy and Coast Guard.
The sturdy AN-32s have been IAF workhorses in ferrying troops and cargo to forward areas since they were first inducted in 1984. Though they have a relatively good flight safety record, the AN-32s are certainly old despite their ongoing life-extension and upgrade refits.
The ill-fated AN-32 which went missing with 29 personnel on board over the Bay of Bengal on Friday had suffered three technical snags earlier this month despite undergoing a life-extension, overhaul and upgrade refit just as recently as September last year. Officials, however, contended the snags were "minor in nature like a little hydraulic or pressure leak here and there", and no aircraft was ever cleared to fly without being declared fully airworthy.