Indian Air Force’s AN-32 aircraft, a transport plane, has gone missing with 29 people on board while flying from Chennai to Port Blair on July 22.
The aircraft, which took off at 9 am from Port Blair, was on a routine weekly flight for Air Force personnel.
The aircraft is reported to have had some minor problems this month. A massive search and rescue operation has been launched by IAF, Navy and Coast Guard to track the upgraded plane which made the last radio contact at 8.46am, 16 minutes after take off from Tambaram air base. IAF has pressed into service a C130 plane along with two AN-32. The Navy in a statement said Eastern Naval Command deployed two P8i long-range maritime patrol aircraft with advanced electro-optics and radars, two Dornier aircraft and 12 ships with integral helicopters to join the search operations. Media reports claim that bad weather could have played a role in forcing the aircraft off its flight path.
“The plane is still missing. All efforts are being done to trace the plane and the service personnel travelling on board,” Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said.
The 29 people on board the Air Force’s workhorse included six crew members, two of them pilots and one navigator. Besides, there were 11 personnel from the IAF including an officer, two from the Army, one from the Coast Guard and 9 from the navy which included some from its armament depot.
Defence sources said the plane was at about 23,000 feet when the last contact was established. The aircraft can fly for up to four hours without refuelling. Dr Subhash Ramrao Bhamre, MoS Defence said the incident took place 270 kms away from Chennai. He said that massive rescue operations were on to find the missing IAF plane.
The rescue operations according to Bhamre may continue in the night as well. Bhamre also said that the families of all those who were on board the plane have been informed.
The Russian built twin engine AN-32 aircraft had undergone an upgrade in Ukraine. IAF has a fleet of over 100 AN-32s but the multi-million dollar upgrade programme has been hit due to the crisis in Ukraine. The plane, which has an endurance of over four hours, has an emergency beacon locator, which usually gets activated if there is a crash.
A Navy submarine has been sent to track any underwater transmission from the locator.
The Russian made AN-32 is considered to be one of the most reliable machines that the IAF has. The aircraft has the ability to take off and land from small airstrips.