With the air crash in Lahaul turning out to be a nightmare for family members of the missing pilot, a two week long search launched to locate the wrecked combat plane - MIG 29 has turned out to be Indian Air force’s largest search operation.
While weather conditions are turning hostile again, Indian Air Force has now roped in more mountaineers to trace the missing pilot- squadron leader, DS Tomar and to locate the flight data recorder of the plane that crashed on October 18, during a nocturnal combat exercise. Indian Air Force had called in mountaineers from Army’s High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) to supplement ground search initiated on peaks between Chokang village and Gangsten glacier.
Equipped with sophiscated search equipment to trace debris of plane buried under snow Engineers from 17 engineering regiment was conducting ground search along with three-ladakh scout battalion and one battalion from Jammu and Kashmir rifles.
A day ago the army units involved in the search operations had pressed into service sniffer dogs to locate the missing pilot as the Indian Air force is still intensely searching. A family member of the pilot who arrived in Keylong few days ago has returned back to as the hopes of survival are only fading away with each passing day.
Relatives of the pilot had met the district administration and announced a reward of Rs 50,000 for the locals giving any vital information about 32 year old DS Tomar, who had recently completed a combat fighter leadership course. Tomar flew from the Adampur air base in his MIG-29 along with his colleague in another plane for a night exercise.
While the other plane safely returned back to the air base Tomar went missing along with his plane. The search teams,till now have not stumbled upon any evidence that could give them a clue about the missing pilot.
“If he had ejected out safely at least we would have been able to trace him through the personal rescue beacon” Wing Commander SK Mehta, spokesman for Western Air Command told Hindustan Times. Pilots use personal Rescue Beacon when all other means of self-rescue are exhausted.
Emergency beacons that are manually activated send out signals to a satellite. "Nothing can be said about the pilot until we find out traces" said Mehta, adding that the operations will only be halted when search teams gather evidence about the missing pilot, while it is intensely searching for the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) that would give them vital clues about the reason that lead to the air crash. "Each pilot is like a family member for us, we will not give up so easily" said an Air force official camping in Keylong.
The IAF had managed to locate some parts of the crashed aircraft with the help of Army and local villagers but not much success has been achieved in locating the main wreckage It has deployed its unmanned aerial vehicles and fighter aircraft such as the SU-30MKI and the Jaguars to locate the aircraft and has flown close to 160 sorties for the search.
Indian Air Force had earlier launched a big operation to locate the chopper of Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Khandu Dorje this April. The crashed chopper that killed Dorje was located at Sela pass after Indian force had launched a massive operation in the snow clad mountains. The Air force had also traced the wreckage of the chopper carrying Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Reddy in Nallamala Hills. But the air force officers recall that the operations launched to trace the helicopter that crashed along the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1988 was one of the biggest search operations since the search also involved vessels from the Indian navy.