Defence minister Manohar Parrikar on Friday informed the Parliament that India has sought help from the US to check if their satellites captured any signals from the missing AN-32 aircraft, noting there was very little possibility of sabotage in the incident.
Giving clarifications on the missing aircraft in the Rajya Sabha, the minister said he was “disturbed” by the aircraft’s sudden disappearance.
“I am also disturbed at such a sudden disappearance. I spoke with many air chiefs, other senior air force personnel, [and] they also are puzzled by the sudden disappearance,” he said.
Assuring the House that the aircraft had “adequate lifetime”, Parrikar said maximum efforts were being made to reduce accidents, making sure that aircrafts not fit for flying was not used.
He said the missing aircraft “was almost at the end of the range of passive radar. In effect, in another 10 minutes it would have crossed the limit of the passive radar and there is an area around 150-200 nautical miles where there is no radar coverage either from Chennai or Port Blair.”
He said the aircraft had undergone its first overhaul, and already flown for 179 hours after that. The pilot had flown for over 500 hours on the route. “So it is not that something new was happening,” he said.
“Only thing that was recorded was because of a cumulonimbus cloud, which normally no aviator will like to enter into because it is a very charged and heavy cloud... they (pilots) said we are deviating to right,” Parrikar said, adding that this happened 7-8 minutes before the plane went off the radar.
“At the time of coming down, it actually tilted to the left and descended very fast from 23,000 feet in few seconds. Then it disappeared from the radar.
“Two things happened, it was at the edge of radar signal where you don’t get very active radar signal, you just keep track of it. There is no SOS, no transmission at any frequency, it just disappeared... That is the worrying part,” he said.
He also said that no signal from the emergency beacon locator has been tracked, but added it was “difficult that it will be actually activated” if the aircraft dives inside water.
“In the earlier Coast Guard case (Dornier crash) also, it had not activated,” he said.
Parrikar also said there was very little chance of sabotage.
“I can’t speculate... we are searching for it but I can say only this much, though we are checking all angles, the possibility of a sabotage is comparatively very less.
“They have standard operating procedure; all passengers were from defence forces.”
About the search operations, he said the US has been contacted for any information from their satellites.
“We did not get even a single signal. We are now contacting the US, if their satellites have picked signals,” he said, but added that a satellite may not have picked signals because of a thick cloud cover, and it also depends on whether a satellite was crossing the area at the time.
He added that so far, 505 hours of air sorties have been undertaken and 23 different items noticed.
Of the 23 inputs, there were 17 visual sightings and six transmissions.
Indian survey ships are searching the seabed, and submarine Sindhudhwaj, which had finally located the crashed Dornier, is carrying out an underwater search.
“Round-the-clock air surveillance is being maintained. There are 10 Navy ships in the area. The depth of water is 3,300 to 4,000 metres. Special vessels have also been summoned,” he said.
The minister added that he was personally monitoring the entire operation, and getting updates every few hours.