The wreckage of the Indian Air Force’s transport aircraft was located over 24 hours after it had disappeared near the Indo-China border in Arunachal Pradesh Tuesday afternoon with 13 defence personnel on board.
According to defence spokesperson Wing Commander Ranjit Sahoo, the wreckage was found northwest of village Tato in West Siang district.
The spot atop Rinchi Hill, some 12,000 ft above sea level, is close to the advanced landing ground (ALG) at Mechuka from where the AN-32 aircraft had taken off around 2 pm on Tuesday.
“There were no survivors. Seven of the crew in the ill-fated aircraft belonged to the IAF while the rest were army personnel. Among the IAF men were two wing commanders, two squadron leaders and a flight lieutenant,” Sahoo told Hindustan Times from Shillong.
“The area where the wreckage was found is located in a highly inhospitable terrain and it might require days for the search team to reach the nearest motor head from where we can airlift the mortal remains to our base,” an IAF official said.
The official said the bodies, found close to hill in an accessible area, were taken to Mechuka and would be flown to the Shillong headquarters of the Eastern Air Command on Thursday.
The AN-32 was on a routine food supply sortie. It had arrived earlier from Chabua air base in eastern Assam’s Dibrugarh district and was destined for Rowriah air base in central Assam’s Jorhat town.
The aircraft was scheduled to reach Jorhat around 3.30 pm, and the worst was feared when it did not respond to the Air Traffic Control’s messages. The IAF subsequently reconnoitered the missing AN-32’s air route but could not locate it on Tuesday.
Bad weather hampered search operations Wednesday morning forcing an MI-17 helicopter to return to Jorhat. Sorties by another helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft also had to be abandoned due to poor visibility. A helicopter finally managed to reach Mechuka in the afternoon.
The AN-32 is the workhorse of the IAF transport fleet, travelling to far off bases to deliver much-needed supplies to soldiers.
Meanwhile, a team of Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Army and State police personnel and local villagers reached the spot after trekking over five hours. Police at West Siang district headquarters Aalo could not confirm recovery of the bodies.
Notably, Arunachal Pradesh is often referred to as an aircraft graveyard. Some 450 aircraft, mostly of the combat kind, have crashed onto the Eastern Himalayan mountains in the State since World War II. At least 1,200 people on board have also perished.