Search is still on for the Indian Air Force’s AN-32 transport plane, which went missing on Monday with 13 people including eight crew members, and five passengers onboard, near the border with China.
Late Monday evening, the IAF confirmed that the Antonov AN-32 was headed to the Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground, located in Mechuka Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, after taking off from Jorhat, Assam.
Due to heavy rains in Arunachal Pradesh, the search operations are getting hampered, said an officer. On Monday, the IAF launched a massive search and rescue mission and pitched in two Mi-17 helicopters, a C-130 Hercules special operations aircraft and Indian Army’s Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) `Dhruv’ to locate the missing aircraft. So far the search has been inconclusive.
Satellites like RISAT and aircraft equipped with multiple sensors have joined the concerted efforts to locate the missing aircraft.
Official spokesperson of the Indian Navy Capt DK Sharma told media persons that a P-8I aircraft of the Indian Navy was deployed to search for the missing AN-32. “The P-8I, a long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, took off from INS Rajali, Arakonam in Tamil Nadu, at 1.00 p.m. and headed for joining the search and rescue operation to locate the missing plane between Jorhat and Mechuka,” Sharma said.
The P-8I’s powerful Synthetic Aperture Radar and Electro Optical and Infra Red (EO & IR) sensors would carry out the search in the thickly forested areas.
Speaking to Financial Express Online Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur VM (retd), Addl Director General, Centre for Air Power Studies, “With more than a day having elapsed since it went `overdue’ the news maynot be good. The IAF along with civil administration and the army would leave no stone unturned in their search.” Adding, “The AN-32 is a very sturdy and time tested aircraft-infact, the air maintenance of our frontier posts is done by it. One has to wait and see what went wrong. A Court of Inquiry would have already assembled to look in to that.”
On condition of anonymity, a former IAF’s transport pilot said, “The AN-32 is old but not crash prone. The accident rate of these aircraft is very low. The area of operations in the East has its own challenges and things go wrong at times. ”
Challenges of narrow valleys, unpredictable weather, short landing strips etc, are some of the possibilities that that the plane could have gone missing, he added.
AN-32 transport aircraft takes off from Jorhat at 12.27 pm for the Menchuka advance landing ground in Shi-Yomi district in Arunachal Pradesh.
Last contact with ground control was made at 1 pm. After which all available resources have been employed to locate the aircraft.
There were total of 13 persons on board which included eight aircrew and five passengers.
American transport plane C-130J, another AN-32 aircraft besides two Mi-17 helicopters of the IAF and the Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) of the Indian Army have been dispatched for the search and rescue mission.
And the search on foot is being carried out by the ground parties of the Indian Army. It went on in the night.
Also, the local administration of Shi Yomi district in Arunachal Pradesh is also on a search mission with the help of the villagers.
Even Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) is part of the search party.
So far there has been no update on either the wreckage or the persons onboard.
According to IAF, the “Search and rescue (SAR) operation has resumed as the weather cleared up on Tuesday.
In case if required, the IAF plans to deploy more assets for the SAR.
On Monday, defence minister Rajnath Singh had spoken to the vice chief of IAF Air Marshal Rakesh Singh Bhadauria on steps to find the missing aircraft.
The official spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence has said that the minister was keeping an eye on the situation.
The Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) is around 35km from the China border and it was re-activated last year. Since 2013, this ALG was non-functional.
The AN-32 is a Russian origin twin-engine turboprop transport aircraft.
There are five squadrons of the AN-32 in the IAF which were inducted from 1984.
It is used for carrying Army troops and supplies for them in forward areas along the Line of Control with Pakistan (LOC) and LAC with China.
AN-32 transport aircraft had disappeared over the Bay of Bengal with 29 people onboard in 2016.
It had lost contact after taking off from Tambaram Air Force Station, Chennai headed to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The aircraft was never found. All 29 people on board were declared dead.
In 2009, AN-32 plane had crashed over the Rinchi Hill near Heyo village in West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. There were 13 defence personnel on board. After a major SAR, the wreckage was found about 30 km from Mechuka ALG.
There were seven IAF men and six Army personnel on board the aircraft. Two of them were wing commanders, two squadron leaders, and a flight lieutenant.