Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar made a brief pit stop at Chennai’s Tambaram airbase on Saturday morning, before leaving to monitor the ongoing search for the IAF AN-32 airplane that has been missing since Friday.
“As of now a massive search operation is in progress, braving prevalent monsoon weather conditions and poor visibility, wherein the IAF, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard have pooled in all available resources to look for any possible sign of the aircraft in this vast swath of the Bay of Bengal between Chennai and Port Blair,” an IAF official said.
The Russian-made Antonov-32 plane disappeared about 280km off the coast of Chennai, from where it had taken off at 8:30 am. It was due to arrive around midday at Port Blair — about 1,400km away — which hosts India’s only tri-service command.
Those onboard included six crew members, 15 personnel from the IAF, army, navy and coast guard, and eight civilians who were family members of the personnel.
The last contact with the aircraft was established roughly around 15-20 minutes after take-off, sources said.
“We have already deployed two ships — the Sagar and the Samujhan — to the area, as well as two aircrafts to assist with the search operations,” an Indian coast guard official said. “Right now we’re trying to locate any traces of the aircraft.”
Describing the difficulties faced by the search and rescue teams, an IAF official said the Bay “is very choppy with thick monsoon clouds in the area making the search effort quite challenging. [The defence minister] has directed that the operations be continued unhindered till further orders”.
The navy has also deployed 10 additional 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 navy said. Four Coast Guard ships are also involved in the operations.
Parrikar was briefed by senior navy and air force officials before boarding his plane to conduct an aerial survey of the ongoing search and rescue operation. The search has been on since 11:00 am on Friday.
The incident comes a year after a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft with three crew members onboard for a routine surveillance flight went missing.