An Indian Air Force AN-32 transport aircraft with 13 people on board went missing Monday while flying over Arunachal Pradesh. Officials said a massive search operation was underway.
The aircraft, which took off from Jorhat in Assam around 12.30 pm, was scheduled to land an hour later at Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh’s newly created Shi Yomi district. The weather over the region was turbulent Monday, and the AN-32’s last contact with ground staff was at 1 pm.
The 13 on board the aircraft comprise six officers, five airmen and two non-combatants (enrolled). Shi Yomi borders China to the north and is one of the remotest locations in the Himalayan state.
IAF PRO Wing Commander Ratnakar Singh said: “An AN-32 got airborne today from Jorhat at 1227 hours for Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground. The aircraft last contacted ground agencies at 1300 hours (approx). Thereafter, there was no contact with the aircraft. Since the aircraft did not reach the destination, overdue actions were initiated by Indian Air Force. A total of eight aircrew and five passengers were on board the aircraft.”
He said no civilian was on board. IAF aircraft C-130, AN-32, two Mi-17 helicopters and Indian Army ALH helicopters were trying to locate the missing aircraft.
The IAF spokesperson said the aircraft had not been located until Monday evening. “Some ground reports were received on possible location of a crash site. Helicopters were routed to the location. However, no wreckage has been sighted so far,” he said.
The IAF was coordinating with the Indian Army as well as government and civil agencies to locate the missing aircraft. “Search operations from air and by ground parties of Indian Army are planned to continue through the night,” he said.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who was at the Siachen glacier earlier in the day on his first official trip, spoke to IAF Vice Chief, Air Marshal Rakesh Singh Bhadauria, about the missing aircraft. “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,” Singh posted on Twitter.
In October 2017, an Mi-17 helicopter of the IAF, crashed near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, close to the China border, killing all seven military personnel — five IAF personnel, including two pilots, and two Army men.
The AN-32 is a Soviet-designed twin engine turboprop transport aircraft which was first inducted in the IAF in 1984. Having undergone several upgrades, it has been the workhorse of the IAF transport fleet in border areas.
The last time an IAF transport aircraft went missing was in 2016, when an AN-32 disappeared over the Bay of Bengal after taking off from Chennai for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The search and rescue operation continued for weeks but the aircraft was never found. All 29 people on board were presumed dead.
Coincidentally, 10 years ago, in June 2009, IAF had lost an AN-32 aircraft flying on the same route, at Rinchi Hill, about 30 km from Mechuka ALG. All 13 defence personnel on board the aircraft were killed in that mishap.
An AN-32 crashed in February 2000 at the Vijaynagar ALG in Arunachal Pradesh, while another crash was reported near Palam airport in Delhi in March 1999, killing 21 personnel on board. In 1992, two AN-32 aircraft had collided mid-air during formation flying.