Efforts continue to locate the overdue Antonov An-32 transport aircraft carrying 13 Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel from Jorhat to Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh. A Search-and-Rescue (SAR) operation that was launched Monday afternoon resumed early morning on Tuesday near the last known position of the aircraft in the valleys of Arunachal Pradesh under fair weather conditions.
Several aircraft that took off from Chabua, Tezpur and Jorhat air bases have been pressed into service for aerial search operations — two Sukhoi Su-30 multirole fighter aircraft, a C-130J, AN-32, 2 Mi-17 helicopters and one ALH have been carrying out sorties in the areas around Siang district. A P8i long-range reconnaissance aircraft of the Indian Navy took off from Tamil Nadu to join the search operations. However, no wreckage has been sighted so far.
“The C-130J carried out three SAR sorties yesterday night, but unable to sight the aircraft. SAR operations resumed as the weather cleared this morning. SAR sortie by Su30 was carried out this afternoon, and another would conduct the search at night. Post sunset, search by helicopters have ceased for the day and will resume tomorrow at sunlight,” said IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Ratnakar Singh.
CARTOSAT and RISAT satellites of ISRO are taking images of the area. Ground parties of Indian Army and ITBP along with locals and district administration officials are also searching the area.
“A team of police and administrative officers, locals including hunters who know the terrain well left from Siang at 7:30 am. There is no network coverage, no communication in these areas – cellular information is not possible. We will get an update only when they return to the administrative HQs in Kaying,” said Siang Deputy Commissioner Rajeev Takuk.
Speaking to News18, Air Marshal Anjan Kumar Gogoi (Retd)
said the ‘workhorse’ of the Indian Air Force, AN-32 has proved to be a versatile aircraft, but flying in high altitude areas involves high risks.
“The aircraft is missing and the search is on. There is no conclusive evidence of a crash, and so I will not jump the gun. Many surprising things have happened. But since it’s more than 24 hours that we have no contact with the aircraft, a good news is not likely to come soon. Mechuka area, which is about 6000-7000 feet is not a very high altitude for flying, but weather in Arunachal is tricky. Mechuka is a valley, and depending on the cloud situation, making visual contact with the ALG could be a problem.”
“The problem with valley flying - you have to know the valley backwards - if you make a wrong turn, you might go into a blind valley. And there’s no retrieving from that,” added Air Marshal Gogoi.
According to IAF spokesperson, the missing AN-32 is partially upgraded.
“I am sure this aircraft had an emergency locator beacon, because when I was in service, the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) System was definitely there in the aircraft and still is, but if an aircraft has crashed, depending on the type of crash, the ELT may not function. The Su-30, C 130 and helicopters carrying ELS – the Emergency Locator Sensor can sense the radio transmission,” said Air Marshal Gogoi, adding that because of the thick foliage in Arunachal, it could be difficult to get signal.
“A visual sighting of the aircraft is required. There are other means like ELT and ELS system, synthetic aperture radar pictures taken, and there could be other electronic devices. Weather or clouds do not hamper radar pictures taken by Su-30,” he added.
The IAF supplies nearly 40,000 tonnes of material including food and kerosene every year to far off places. Air Marshal Gogoi recollected how the AN-32 has been serving the IAF and the country since 1984.
“Transport aircraft, people believe is only for carrying passengers- the AN-32 has done such a fantastic job for the Air Force and the country. Almost 15 years back, it was used to transport Meat on Hoof (MOH) including sheep and lambs to Ladakh, Siachen and Arunachal bases. It was used as an air ambulance during the Bhuj earthquake, to transport tigers from Sariska in 2010-2011 and currency to Manipur when insurgency was at its peak. It hasn’t just been called a Workhorse.”Meanwhile, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command, Air Marshal RD Mathur visited Air Force Station, Jorhat and met with the families of the missing air warriors.