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Families of missing air warriors still hopeful that AN-32 will be found but want more boots on the ground

As aerial surveys fail to trace the missing AN-32, hopes rest on ground teams consisting of Army personnel, police and local hunters including one nicknamed Tarzan.

india Updated: Jun 10, 2019 22:04 IST
Sadiq Naqvi
Sadiq Naqvi
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
IAF,AN-32,Missing aircraft
FILE PHOTO: The Indian Air Force AN-32 transport aircraft with 13 people on board disappeared on June 3 after taking off from Jorhat.(REUTERS FILE PHOTO)

Since June 4, when he arrived in Jorhat a day after an Indian Air Force’s AN-32 transport aircraft piloted by his son Ashish Tanwar disappeared, the evening update from the officials have only brought disappointment for Radhe Lal.

Yet, like some other families he remains hopeful of the well being of those on the plane which disappeared on June 3 after taking off from Jorhat in Assam for Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh.

“Every evening they come and tell us nothing has been found,” said Radhe Lal, a retired subedar of the Indian Army whose 29-year-old son Ashish was piloting the aircraft. “I am 100% hopeful that the plane is safe somewhere. But they need to find it soon. It’s not just a machine but also has humans who may not be able to survive beyond a few days,” said Lal, who travelled to Jorhat from Palwal in Haryana.

Lal said that on Sunday the families of those among the 13 onboard the Soviet-origin AN-32 who are in Jorhat were given a presentation on the search and rescue operation. On Saturday, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa had arrived in Jorhat to take stock of the operations and to meet the families.

But after more than a week of the plane’s disappearance, Lal is getting desperate.

“I am not blaming anyone but all the advance equipment they have deployed has failed. Why can they not seek international support for more high-end devices,” Lal said adding he had asked Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa to deploy more ground troops.

Also read: Now, mountaineers join AN-32 search

“Why can they not deploy more ground troops to scour the jungles? Why are there only so few when we have such a big army? Deploy as many troops as it takes to look for it,” he said. “Five out of the six of us siblings served in the defence forces. It was our dream to see my child as a pilot and that is why Ashish left his MNC job to enter the IAF,” he said.

Ashish’s wife Sandhya Tanwar, who was manning the Air Traffic Control at Jorhat on June 3 when the AN-32 took off has been distraught. “She was the one who signaled it to take off,” Lal said.

His daughter and son-in-law are also in the IAF.

Ram Santosh, who sells tea in New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri, said he is hoping to hear soon from his brother Rajesh Kumar (23), a cook with the IAF.

“He called our parents at 12 pm that day saying he will call again once he lands at 1 pm in Mechuka,” said Santosh who is waiting for an update before he decides to travel to Jorhat. “The government certainly needs to do more,” he said on phone.

In a statement Monday evening, the IAF said, “Today there was marginal improvement in the weather and IAF intensified the search for the missing aircraft. Based on various available inputs, search area was expanded. Ground forces also increased the search. Search will continue throughout the night by airborne sensors and ground teams. IAF is committed in finding the missing air-warriors.”

Also read: Rs 5 lakh cash award announced for info on missing AN-32

“We are using all available assets,” a defence spokesperson said as he detailed that the search and rescue operation resumed after weather cleared following slight rain in the morning. The spokesperson said during the day the operation was carried out by helicopters and C-130s and night missions by the UAV and C-130 have been planned for the night but nothing has been sighted yet.

He said up to 1500 troops have been searching for the plane besides the police, local hunters and other villagers who are scouring the around 800-900 square kilometers of mountains and dense forests in Arunachal Pradesh.

Kushal Pal Singh, the Superintendent of Police of Siang district where the bulk of search operations are centred, said the topography is difficult and clues are scarce. “But I am hopeful that the efforts will pay off,” he said.

Also read: R&AW plane joins AN-32 search ops

The first team of three hunters which left on the morning of June 5 led by a young local from the Adi tribe Babin Yubi, nicknamed Tarzan by the locals for his abilities to remain in jungle for long stretches on hunting expeditions, is yet to return even after six days even as others have taken turns to go inside the forests and come back.

“Tarzan chose his own team mates and has been sent to one of the big mountain ranges in Payum circle because of his special abilities to remain in forests for more than even 10 days,” the Siang police chief said.

“We told them to light a fire if they spot anything so that they can in turn be spotted by the choppers hovering above,” said Singh.

First Published: Jun 10, 2019 21:26 IST