After eight days of extensive search-and-rescue operations in Arunachal Pradesh, the wreckage of the missing An-32 transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force was spotted Tuesday at a remote location in high mountains, close to the China border.
IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Ratnakar Singh said mountaineering teams of the IAF, Army and civil administration were being formed and would be flown to the site in helicopters Wednesday “to look for survivors and other things”.
Earlier in the day, confirming the sighting of the wreckage, Singh said: “The wreckage of the aircraft was spotted today 16 km north of Lipo, north east of Tato at an approximate elevation of 12,000 ft by the IAF Mi-17 helicopter undertaking search in the expanded search zone. Efforts are now continuing to establish the status of occupants and establish survivors. Further details will be communicated as the recovery actions progress.”
Officials said the wreckage site is mountain terrain and during the elections, a poll team had to trek three days to reach a village in the area.
The An-32, which took off from Assam’s Jorhat base around 12.30 pm on June 3, never reached the Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground in Shi Yomi district. The aircraft’s last contact with ground staff was at 1 pm. There were 13 people on board the aircraft.
Tato is the headquarters of Shi Yomi district created last December. Shi Yomi borders China to the north and is one of the remotest locations in the Himalayan state. Arunachal Pradesh officials say it is yet to be ascertained whether the wreckage site is in the jurisdictional area of Shi Yomi or neighbouring Siang.
Siang Deputy Commissioner Rajiv Takuk told The Indian Express: “As per my knowledge, the wreckage has been detected on a hill and if it’s on the southeastern side of the hill, it’s in Siang or else in Shi Yomi. As the crow flies, the location will probably be 30-40 km from the McMahon Line, but on foot it will take days. It’s a very difficult area with no communication or habitation. It is 100 per cent mountainous and dotted with ravines and gorges. During the elections, it took three days of trekking for the poll team to reach the village of Gate (in the area where the wreckage has been spotted).”
Ever since the aircraft went missing, personnel and resources from various agencies, including the Army, ITBP, Indian Navy, ISRO, state police and district administration, have been looking for it. C-130J aircraft, Su-30MKI aircraft, P8i long-range reconnaissance aircraft of the Indian Navy, Advanced Light Helicopters, MI-17 and Cheetah helicopters were deployed and satellite photography was also done.
Local communities, including hunters and experts in mountain climbing, have been accompanying troopers in the search operations.
Takuk said: “All possible steps were taken by the district administration too. We engaged the local population and requested villagers to comb their areas for any possible lead on the wreckage. We had sent hunters into deep forests to search and come back with information. Some of them are yet to return.”
In New Delhi, sources said going by the location and altitude of the wreckage site, it appeared that the aircraft crashed in the mountains but exact details will only be known on completion of an inquiry. That too is dependent on the recovery of the aircraft black box and metallurgical analysis of the wreckage.