New Delhi: Search and rescue operation to locate missing Indian Air Force aircraft AN-32 has been expanded up to Indian Ocean. The aircraft with 29 personnel on board, including four officers, on Friday went missing over Bay of Bengal on its way from near Chennai to Port Blair raising concerns over its fate.
A massive search and rescue operation was launched by IAF, Navy and Coast Guard, deploying one submarine, eight aircraft and 13 ships for tracking the upgraded plane which made the last radio contact at 0846 hours, 16 minutes after take off from Tambaram air base. Merchant ships have also been asked to look for any sign of the missing aircraft.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is in Chennai to monitor search operations.
The 29 people on board the Air Force's workhorse for a long period included six crew members, two of them pilots and one navigator. Besides, there were 11 personnel from the IAF including an officer, two from the Army, one from the Coast Guard and 9 from the Navy which included some from its armament depot.
"The plane, which was on a routine courier service, took off at about 0830 hours from Tambaram and it was scheduled to land at Port Blair at 1130 hours but it is overdue," IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee said.
Defence sources said the plane was at about 23,000 feet when the last contact was established. The aircraft can fly for up to four hours without refuelling.
While IAF has pressed into service a C130 plane along with two AN-32, the Navy has deployed two P8i maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft from the strategically important Port Blair, home to India's only tri-service command.
The Navy has also pressed into service two Dornier aircraft and 12 ships with the Eastern Fleet Commander on board for the search and rescue operation.
Navy spokesperson Captain DK Sharma said, "Navy has been deployed in full force in the Bay of Bengal for the search and rescue operation."
Coast Guard has rushed four ships to the spot besides two dorniers.
The Russian built twin engine AN 32 aircraft had undergone an upgrade in Ukraine. IAF has a fleet of over 100 AN32s but the multi-million dollar upgrade programme has been hit due to the crisis in Ukraine.
(With additional information from PTI)