Indian warships and planes mounted a massive search operation on Tuesday for a Dornier aircraft that went missing overnight with three crew members on board.
The Coast Guard aircraft went missing more than three hours after taking off from Chennai airport at 6 pm on Monday for a surveillance sortie. Its crew comprised two pilots and a navigator.
This is the second incident this year involving a Dornier aircraft of the armed forces. In March, two crew members of a Dornier aircraft of the navy were killed when it crashed off the Goa coast.
Defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar said in a series of tweets that the Dornier was on a routine surveillance sortie over the sea. The last contact with the aircraft was at 9 pm and the radar at Tiruchirappalli tracked it till 9.23 pm, when it was 95 nautical miles south of Chennai, he said.
The Indian Navy, Coast Guard and Tamil Nadu Coast Security Group are involved in an “intense” search and rescue operation though nothing had been found so far, officials said.
Five Coast Guard vessels, four naval ships and several aircraft, including a long-range P81 maritime surveillance aircraft, are participating in the search in the waters off Chennai.
Fishing communities along the coast were alerted and requested to inform authorities if they spot the aircraft.
The missing Dornier is a new aircraft inducted in the Coast Guard in 2014 and was being flown by a “highly experienced crew”, defence ministry spokesman Kar said.
Dorniers cannot fly above 10,000 feet and are mainly used for low altitude maritime surveillance. While the aircraft has parachutes and other life-saving gear, the low altitude at which the plane was flying could make an escape challenging, officials told PTI.
On March 24, a Dornier aircraft of the Indian Navy crashed off the Goa coast. While its pilot, Commander Nikhil Kuldip Joshi, was rescued by a fishing boat, two other crew members – Lieutenants Kiran Shekhawat and Abhinav Nagori – were killed in the accident.
Shekhawat, 27, was the first woman officer of the armed forces to die in the line of duty. She was training to be an observer and was part of the women’s contingent from the navy that marched in the Republic Day parade this year.
The Indian Navy and Coast Guard use Dornier aircraft for surveillance and patrolling the waters off the coast.