An Indian Navy surveillance aircraft crashed into the Arabian Sea off the coast of Goa on Tuesday night, setting off a massive search for two missing aviators even as the third officer on board, the pilot, was rescued by fishermen within an hour.
However, there was no sign of Sub-Lieutenant Abhinav Nagori, the co-pilot, and Lieutenant Kiran Shekhawat, observer (navigator), even after a full day of search and rescue operations. “The search will continue uninterrupted for as many days it takes to locate the missing officers. We are not giving up hope,” navy spokesperson Captain DK Sharma said.
The navy has put 12 frontline warships and four types of aircraft on the job.
Rescuers were hopeful of a breakthrough after Mumbai-based Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre alerted them to pings from a life jacket with a personal locator beacon. One life jacket was found along with the plane debris, but a navy source said it could be a spare.
The India-made Dornier-228 — the first to crash since the planes were inducted in the navy in the early 1990s — took off from Hansa naval air station at 6.30pm on a training sortie. It lost radar contact at 10.08pm, crashing into the sea 25 nautical miles southwest of Goa.
Its pilot, Commander Nikhil Kuldip Joshi — a seasoned hand with more than 4,000 flying hours — miraculously survived the crash and was picked up an hour later by a fishing boat 10 nautical miles from the location where the plane lost contact. The fishermen alerted the navy by dialling a toll-free distress number that was introduced to strengthen coastal security after the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes.
A fast interceptor craft was launched from Goa to take Joshi to naval hospital Patanjali in Karwar, Karnataka, where he is “serious but stable”. A clear picture of what led to the crash would emerge after the navy debriefs him, the source said.
This is the first naval crash with a female officer on board. Lt Shekhawat, who is married to a naval officer, was part of the navy’s all-woman marching contingent at the Republic Day parade.
The air force, however, has witnessed crashes with women officers on board — flying officer Harita Deol and flying cadet Deepika Sharma were both killed in air mishaps in 1996 and 2008, respectively.
The Dornier crash comes as yet another blow to the navy, which is battling a depleted fleet following a series of accidents.
Indian warships have been involved in 21 accidents between January 2012 and January 2015.
Navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan rushed to Goa and carried out an aerial recce of the crash site to review search and rescue operations.
He met the families of the aircrew and visited the injured pilot at Karwar before returning to Delhi.
Area of #DornierCrash site