The prayers they chant on and off help some in the families retain hope. Others are too shocked to even think of god.
An eerie sense of optimism continues to prevail over eight homes that have been informed of a member from the family missing since Friday after an Indian Air Force plane carrying 29 personnel disappeared over the Bay of Bengal.
While the navy has launched search operations for the AN32 transporter that went off the radar after taking off from Chennai to Port Blair, three families in the country are nourishing the belief that their dear ones would return.
In Haryana upcountry, Deepika Sheoran’s parents await update on the young flight lieutenant who was aboard the IAF carrier that lost contact with the ground 280km off the Tamil Nadu coast. Uttar Pradesh has two families—in Allahabad and Ghazipur further east—that stares at the prospect of bereavement following the disappearance of flight half an hour after takeoff.
Down south, at Visakhapatnam, a young woman holds on to the belief that “nothing will happen” to her husband—a fitter with the Naval Armament Depot (NAD).
In the same Andhra Pradesh town, a pall of gloom hangs on the residences of three other Telugu workers who, too, were onboard the IAF flight. Ravada Vara Prasad Babu (32) hails from Tadiveedhi near Jagadamba and fellow technician Gantla Srinivas Rao (35) belongs to Vepagunta BC Colony, while draftsman B Samba Murthy’s family is Appannapalem area.
No different is the scene at the residence of Nammi Chinna Rao (55) at Buchireddypalem.
Two other missing NAD personnel—Charan Maharana and Purna Chandra Senapathi—are from Odisha. Besides, there is Bhupendra Singh, a quality examiner who is originally from northern India.
Even as defence minister Manohar Parrikar reviewed on Saturday the search operations that have remained unfruitful, tensed families of the missing passengers are keeping fingers crossed.
‘Faith in god’
At Loharu town of Bhiwani district, middle-aged Dalip Sheoran says “we have faith in god”, implying the belief that his daughter will come back. “My wife can’t stop crying...but we are hopeful,” he says, sitting close to the phone. “People tell us everything will be okay.”
Their daughter, Deepika , who was commissioned in IAF three years ago, married in November last year. Her husband Kuldeep Singh, a Coast Guard commander, was posted in Mumbai while she lived in Nashik. They sought a transfer to one place—and got orders recently to be work in the Andaman and Nicobar capital.
“Deepika came home last week ahead of her shifting to Port Blair,” Sheoran says. “She left on July 16. We went to the airport to see her off.”
Families in shock
In Allahabad’s Rajruppur, 25-year-old aircraftman Laxmikant Tripathi’s family is in shock. So is Hridayanarayan Singh, who lives in Bezpur village of Ghazipur, after IAF officials intimated him about the disappearance of the plane in which his cousin Chhedi Singh. Both the personnel work in Port Blair.
Laxmikant’s father Narendra Kumar Tripathi said the youngster had come to his Allahabad home last month after he suffered injuries while playing basketball. “He left for Chennai on July 19 by the train after recovering from his injuries,” he said.
On Friday morning, Laxmikant informed his father over phone about boarding the plane to Port Blair. “But around 2pm, IAF authorities called me to say the plane was missing,” Tripathi said. “My family is praying for our son’s safe return. Our neighbours, too, are.”
In Barezpur, Hridayanarayan, a cousin of 45-year-old Chhedi Singh, spoke of Air Force officials, including flight lieutenant AP Verma, visiting their place. “We are told that the search operation is in full swing and the plane is likely to be traced soon. We are praying for it,” he said.
Singh joined the Air Force 18 years ago.
At Lakshminagar in Vishakhapatnam, 34-year old Nagendra Rao’s residence is peopled with somber relatives. Friends in the locality and local politicians visit the family—to chiefly console Rao’s wife Purnima.
“Nothing will happen to my husband. I am confident he will return safely,” she says, desperately tries to hold back tears and put up a brave face. The couple’s two sons—Sai Praneeth (6) and Nihar (3)—are unable to comprehend the goings-on at their house. Nagendra’s parents Prakash Rao and Eshwari are in numbness. The family originally hails from Mummidivaram in East Godavari district.
Purnima, however, broke down on seeing Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu who called on the family on Saturday morning. Prakash Rao explained to him that Nagendra had called his wife the previous night from Chennai and told her that was to leave for Port Blair for a couple of days.
The wife, two sons and the daughter of Chinna Rao (55) at Buchireddypalem are shattered. Rao, who had been working as tradesman mate in NAD for 25 years, contacted the family last on Friday morning.
The missing medium-lift plane, upgraded last year, can fly for four hours and 15 minutes without refuelling.
A coast guard official said its ships and aircraft were deployed for the mission that was sweeping an area of 200 nautical miles from the shore. Navy has also deployed a submarine. The IAF has its own aircraft, in all 12, on search sorties.
Navy officials said a P-8I surveillance aircraft, a Dornier and four ships had been deployed in the search and rescue operation.
A year ago, a Coast Guard Dronier aircraft with three crew members on board on a routine surveillance flight went missing over Bay of Bengal.
(With inputs from Varanasi, Allahabad, Rohtak and Hyderabad)