A pall of gloom descended upon serving and retired Air Force personnel in the city with news trickling in that the son of a former Commanding Officer of Chandigarh-based 25 Squadron is among the crew members and passengers of the missing AN-32 in Arunachal Pradesh.
The name of the father-son duo is not being revealed on the request of Indian Air Force officials as the fate of the passengers is still not known. The search for the aircraft is still on and it has been hampered by bouts of bad weather. The AN-32, with 13 persons on board, including the crew, has been missing since Monday when it did not land at its destination within scheduled time frame.
According to IAF officers, the young Flight Lieutenant was among the passengers and crew on board the AN-32 which took off from Guwahati for Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground. His father, a retired Group Captain, had commanded the No. 25 Squadron, equipped with AN-32 and IL-76 transport aircraft, in the early 2000s. “At the time, this officer was a school going boy and it was in the later years that he joined the National Defence Academy and later the Air Force,” an officer who knows the family said.
Chandigarh Air Force Station houses transport squadrons of the IAF and had recently received Chinook helicopters from the USA. Most of the flying crew members of the ill-fated AN-32 of 42 Squadron which has gone missing are known to the rank and file of the squadrons here and therefore there is a sombre mood over the incident.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Wing Commander C S Grewal (retd), a former AN-32 pilot who has flown extensively in Ladakh and North East, including Mechuka, said that weather is the main factor while flying in either sectors.
“During my time we used to fly from Jorhat to Mohanbari and then onwards to the ALGs in Tuting or Mechuka and the foremost precaution which used to be taken was regarding the weather conditions. There is no question of flying without visible identification of the terrain because of the mountains. There is also the question of severe turbulence which one might experience while entering certain cloud formations which can cause the aircraft to deviate from its flight path,” he said.
Incidentally, veteran IAF officers informed that the very first AN-32 accident which took place on March 22, 1986 was of an aircraft which belonged to the then Chandigarh-based No. 48 Squadron ‘Camels’. The aircraft had crashed into a mountain side while on a sortie on Pathankot-Thoise-Pathankot sector.
“The aircraft had taken off from Pathankot for Thoise in Ladakh but had to turn around due to bad weather en route. However, on the way back the aircraft deviated due to heavy winds and descended prematurely leading it to crash into a mountain side at a very high altitude. This is known in aviation as ‘Controlled Flight Into Terrain’ (CFIT),” an officer said.
Three days later, on March 25 1986, another AN-32 went missing while being ferried from the then Soviet Union to India. The aircraft was lost with no distress call while on the Muscat-Jamnagar route. The mystery of this missing aircraft has not been solved till date. “However, there has been speculation that the aircraft may have been involved in a mid-air collision with a US Navy fighter aircraft. These US aircraft used to ‘buzz’ the Soviet origin aircraft by coming very close, taking photographs and going under the aircraft. There had been complaints by crew members ferrying the aircraft on this account,” an IAF veteran officer said.
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