In what comes as a heart-wrenching incident, 29 military personnel, including six crew members, are feared dead after an An-32 transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force went missing over the Bay of Bengal after it left from Chennai to Port Blair.
The 29 people who were onboard include six crew members, 11 IAF personnel, two from the Army, nine people from the Navy and one Coast Guard personnel. They were on their way to Port Blair to carry out repairs on the warships of the force stationed there.
Sources in the Defence Ministry indicated to Malayala Manorama that the aircraft had a history of snags in the recent past, but was found to be flying fit by the squadron based in Sulur in Tamil Nadu.
The snags included "pressure leak" from port door and a sluggish throttle, which is used to control the flight.
Sources in the Air Force Headquarters said the plane was losing 4,000 foot per minute at the time it last contacted from the air traffic control and the chances of survival of the crew were bleak, adding that they were hoping for "miracles".
The four air force crew who are missing include Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) Badasara who was the captain of the plane, Flying Officer Nandal who was the co-pilot, Flt Lt Kunal who was the navigator and Junior Warrant Officer Rajan.
According to sources involved in search operations from Chennai, the plane was on a routine weekly flight from Chennai to Port Blair.
"The missing AN-32 abruptly turned and plunged from 23,000 feet approximately 280-km out at sea from Chennai soon after it had taken off at 0800 hours. The plane was scheduled to land at Port Blair in Andaman and Nicobar islands at around 11:20 am. The plane's last known contact with the ground control was at 8:46 am after which it vanished from the radar screens.,"sources told Malayala Manorama.
A massive search and rescue operation in currently on in the Bay of Bengal.
The Indian Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard have launched a full-scale search and rescue operation to locate the missing aircraft. The air force has deployed three aircraft, including a C-130J Super Hercules and four ships while the Navy has pressed several of its vessels into service. INS Karmukh, Gharial, Jyoti, Kuthar, Sahyadri, Rajput, Ranvijay, Kamorta and Kirch among others are scanning the aircraft's flight route.
The Indian Navy has also diverted one of its nuclear submarines to detect the transmissions of locator beacon of the missing aircraft. One of the Coast Guard aircraft had also gone missing in the same area last year. It was located by a Kilo Class submarine INS Sindhudhwaj.
The Russian made AN-32 is considered to be one of the most reliable machines that the IAF has has the ability to take off and land from small airstrips. Nearly 100 AN-32s are in service with the IAF currently.
History of An-32 crashes
March 22, 1986: The first major air crash took place in Jammu and Kashmir area.
March 25, 1986: The accident took place when the aircraft was on its way to Jamnagar from Muscat and was lost in the Arabian Sea. The wreckage, in spite of best of efforts, could not be located.
1988: Another accident involving AN-32 took place near Kanpur.
1989: An AN-32, owned by an intelligence, outfit got disintegrated in mid-air while flying from Delhi to its base in Charbatia, Orissa.
1991-92: The accident occurred near Trivandrum. The ill-fated aircraft had taken off from Tambaram.
March 26, 1992: An accident involving the similar aircraft took place in Assam. The aircraft was lost in Jorhat hills.
April 1, 1992: This was the accident that claimed that life of Wg Cdr Makol. It took place when the aircraft was involved in a mid-air collision near Khanna.
March 7, 1999: The accident which took place at Indira Gandhi International Airport, was perhaps the worst. 31 people were killed in the crash.
June 9, 2009: The plane crashed in Arunachal Pradesh, killing 13 defence personnel onboard.
January 2012: The aircraft crashed in Jorhat district of Assam.
September 20, 2014: The transport aircraft, with 11 people onboard crash-landed at the Chandigarh airport.