Sagar Nidhi, the ocean research vessel of National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), has begun its search for the debris of the missing Indian Air Force aircraft An-32 on Monday morning. Sagar Nidhi arrived at the rescue location from Mauritius on Sunday night.
Sources say Sagar Nidhi began the search operations 151 nautical miles from Chennai coast from where the flight went missing on July 22. With its eight-member team, Sagar Nidhi is expected to cover 10,000 square km during the search.
Sagar Nidhi, with its remote operated vessel, can search deep into the sea for any radio activity or for any foreign object in the seabed. The search will be carried out to a depth of 2,300m while the depth is 3,000 to 3,500m. Besides, the advantage with Sagar Nidhi is that it can search and scan the seabed with its multibeam echosounder and map the seabed with its sub-bottom profiler.
According to sources, the operations began at 9am. The seabed will be scanned with multi-beam echo sounder and profiler to find the debris. The challenges faced by the coast guard and the other rescue workers are figuring the location where the aircraft went missing and getting radio activity to locate the black box. As An-32 was an old aircraft, no vessel pressed into the search operations has been able to get any radio activity from its black box.
The search operations are now being carried out only from An-32’s last known location. It may be recalled that all efforts to locate An-32 in the past two weeks, using US Satellite and Russian specialised deep sea rescue ship, have been futile. The air surface search, too, gave no clue about the debris of the aircraft.
Meanwhile, RV Samudra Ratnakar, a search vessel belonging to the Geological Survey of India (GSI) is expected to begin its search operation along with Sagar Nidhi soon. Samudra Ratnakar, already anchored at the Chennai port, has set out for search operations 151 nautical miles from Chennai. Sources say Samudra is the last hope as it had mapped this zone, which comes under a Special Economic Zone, to carry out the search operations easily.
According to sources, nine experts from GSI, from various centres like Visakhapatnam, Kolkata, Kochi, Mangalore and Chennai, are on board the vessel. The search operations will be led by G. Nagendran from Chennai. It is equipped with advanced technological support to carry out search operations, including deep-water search, shallow-water search, multibeam survey systems and sub-bottom profiling systems to map the marine sediment layers and a single streamer multi-channel seismic system. Also, Samudhra Ratnakar’s single beam echo sounder, side scan sonar, Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) system, Synthetic Aperture Sonar (SAS) system and underwater cameras will help map the sea for the missing aircraft.
The IAF An-32 aircraft, carrying 29 people onboard, went missing 15 minutes after it took off from Tambaram Air Force Base on July 22.