Search and rescue operations to locate a transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force that went missing on Monday started again this morning in the hilly terrain of Arunachal Pradesh. The AN-32 twin-engine turboprop plane took off from Assam’s Jorhat with 13 people on board at 12:27 pm. It was scheduled to land an hour later at a remote military landing strip in Mechuka in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh.
The Air Force has deployed two Mi-17s and one Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) to search for the missing plane, while ground teams of the Army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are trekking to a suspected crash site.
The weather in the region and possibly along the flight path was turbulent on Monday, officials said. The aircraft last had contact with ground crew at 1 pm, sources told NDTV. There were six officers, five airmen and two non-combatants on the aircraft.
In 2009, an AN-32 had crashed in the same area.
IAF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel P Khongsai on Monday said every effort was being made to locate the missing plane. The Indian Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the state disaster relief force joined the search.
With bad weather and difficult terrain impeding the operations, the Indian Air Force had said the search would continue on Tuesday.
IAF is coordinating with Indian Army, various government and civil agencies to locate the missing aircraft. Search operations will continue from air and by ground parties of Indian Army through the night. 4/4
– Indian Air Force (@IAF_MCC) June 3, 2019
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted about the incident.
Spoke to Vice Chief of @IAF_MCC, Air Marshal Rakesh Singh Bhadauria regarding the missing IAF AN-32 Aircraft which is overdue for some hours.
He has apprised me of the steps taken by the IAF to find the missing aircraft. I pray for the safety of all passengers on board.
– Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) June 3, 2019
Located in a picturesque and sparsely populated valley, Mechuka has one of the many rudimentary landing strips run by the Air Force near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
The terrain under the flight’s route is mountainous and heavily forested. The landing and take-off approaches to Mechuka are extremely difficult. Coupled with erratic weather, the region is among the most inhospitable for air transport.
“The aircraft may have got entangled in low clouds. Flying in these areas is fraught with a measure of uncertainty,” Air Commodore Prashant Dikshit (Retired) told NDTV.
The An-32 is a Soviet-designed twin engine turboprop transport aircraft used extensively by the Indian Air Force for over four decades. Since it joined the IAF fleet, the rugged planes used to ferry people and air-drop supplies have undergone several rounds of upgrades.
In 2016, an Indian Air Force An-32 disappeared while flying over the Bay of Bengal after taking off from Chennai for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The search and rescue operation became India’s largest such operation for a missing plane on the sea in history but the aircraft was never found. All 29 people on board were presumed dead.