India on Friday mounted a massive search and rescue operation for an Indian Air Force plane that went missing with 29 people on board over the Bay of Bengal, Punch reports.
With concern mounting hours after its disappearance, five surveillance aircraft and 13 navy and coastguard ships launched the search for the aircraft, which vanished shortly after take-off from the southern city of Chennai.
The aircraft was on its way to Port Blair, the capital of the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands.
“Full scale search & rescue launched to look for IAF AN 32 overdue at Port Blair since 1130 hrs. Max assets being deployed at earliest,” the defence ministry tweeted.
The Russian-built Antonov AN-32 military transport plane was carrying service personnel and six crew members as it undertook a routine courier service to the Indian islands. The last contact with the plane was made around 15 minutes after take-off from Tambaram Air Force Station on the outskirts of Chennai, an IAF spokesman said.
“A search operation is on. The plane was airborne at 8:30 am (0300 GMT)and was supposed to land at Port Blair at 11:30,” Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee said.
The AN-32, equipped with navigational aids, are the IAF’s workhorse aircraft and capable of flying for up to four hours without refuelling. An IAF source told a reporter the radar data from the missing aircraft showed it making a sharp left turn before rapidly losing altitude.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed. Let’s hope and pray for the best,” he said, requesting anonymity.
Retired Air Marshal Anil Chopra said searching for an aircraft in an ocean was complex and that knowledge of the last known position of the plane would be critical for any breakthrough.
“Unfortunately the radar cover in Indian east coast does not cover full area… As time elapses uncertainty and risk increases,” he posted on Twitter.
“Searching an aircraft in an ocean is as complex as finding a ping pong ball on Siachen glacier,” he tweeted, referring to the Himalayan glacier.