Indian authorities have ended a search for a Dornier aircraft of the Coast Guard that went missing more than a month ago after recovering remains of its three-member crew and most of the debris from waters off the Tamil Nadu coast.
Operation Talash, the search mission for the surveillance aircraft that went missing on June 8, was “terminated last night after getting maximum pieces of debris”, defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar tweeted on Tuesday.
The Coast Guard retrieved human remains and personal effects of the crew members such as wrist watches from a depth of 950 metres. The human remains were found at three locations and were identified by a doctor, Kar said.
Eighty per cent of the aircraft's parts were found on the seabed, Coast Guard inspector general SP Sharma told a news conference in Chennai. Most of the items were wires and cables which could not disintegrate.
"Human remains and wrist watches of the crew have been recovered from the seabed. The human remains will be sent for DNA analysis for identification purposes," Sharma said.
"As the events unfold in terms of decoding the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder and establishing the identity of the crew, I am sure the board of inquiry will submit its report as early as possible.”
The Coast Guard is consulting the Tamil Nadu Forensic and Science Laboratory to carry out DNA tests on the remains. It has suggested that the parents of the crew members should be present for confirming their identities.
The Coast Guard retrieved the flight data recorder in the waters off Pichavaram in Cuddalore district last week. Olympic Canyon, a vessel of Reliance Industries, and a submarine from the National Institute Of Ocean Technology were involved in the search.
Sharma had earlier said the Coast Guard had mounted one of its biggest search operations in more than two decades.
The Dornier with its crew – deputy commandant Vidyasagar (pilot), deputy commandant Subash Suresh (co-pilot) and MK Soni (navigator) – went missing while returning to its base at Chennai airport after a surveillance flight along the Tamil Nadu coast.
The aircraft was flying at around 9,000 feet when it dropped about 5,000 feet in a few seconds.
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 said.
This was the second incident this year involving a Dornier aircraft of the armed forces. In March, two crew members of a Dornier of the navy were killed when it crashed off the Goa coast. Lieutenant Kiran Shekhawat, one of the two people killed, was the first woman officer of the armed forces to die in the line of duty.