Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar made a brief stop at Chennai’s Tambaram airforce base on Saturday morning to monitor the search operations for a missing Indian Airforce (IAF) plane.
The minister was briefed by senior navy and air force officials, including IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, before he left for an aerial survey of the search and rescue (SAR) operation.
A Russian-origin Antonov-32 plane disappeared on Friday about 280 kms off the coast of Chennai from where it had taken off at 8:30 am , carrying 29 passengers. The flight was due to arrive around midday at Port Blair -- about 1400km away -- which hosts India’s only tri-service command.
The SAR operations began at around 11 am and have been ongoing since.
Those on board the missing plane included six crew members, 15 personnel from the IAF, army, navy and Coast Guard, and eight civilians who were family members of the personnel.
Reached Tambaram to monitor operations on IAF AN 32 aircraft.— Manohar Parrikar (@manoharparrikar) July 23, 2016
The last contact with the aircraft was established roughly around 15-20 minutes after the take-off, sources said.
“We have already deployed two ships -- the Sagar and the Samujhan -- to the area, as well as two aircraft to assist with the search operations,” an Indian Coast Guard official said.
“Right now we’re trying to locate any traces of the aircraft.”
The Indian Navy has also deployed a further 10 vessels to assist in the search for the missing aircraft.
Ships deployed for the search include Shivalik-class stealth frigate INS Sahyadri, guided-missile destroyers INS Rajput and Ranvijay, corvettes Kamorta, Kirch, Karmuk, Kora, Kuthar, fleet tankers INS Shakti and INS Jyoti, amphibious warfare vessel INS Gharial and patrol vessel INS Sukanya, the Indian Navy said. Four Coast Guard ships are also involved in the operations.
A submarine at sea was diverted as well for locating transmissions from the emergency locator beacon onboard the aircraft. Emergency locator beacons usually get activated in case a plane crashes.
The incident comes a year after a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft with three crew members on board for a routine surveillance flight went missing.
India bought 125 AN-32 aircraft in 1984. The IAF at present has a fleet of over 100 AN-32s.
The Russian-origin aircraft is known for its excellent take-off characteristics in hot and high conditions, and is suitable for use as a medium tactical military transport. The twin-engine aircraft is primarily used for transporting cargo and passengers, including skydivers and paratroopers.
After India decided in 2009 to get the aircraft upgraded, 40 were upgraded in Ukraine and the rest in the country.
The final batch of upgraded AN-32RE aircraft was delivered last year, and the modifications have increased the life of these aircraft by 15 years to serve till 2035, according to experts. However, the modernisation programme in India was hit by the situation in Ukraine and shortage of spare parts.
(With agency inputs)