For three days now, the operation to retrieve the mortal remains of the 13 personnel on board the ill-fated An-32 aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) that crashed earlier this month have been completely stuck due to inclement weather. An additional 19-member team, including four Garud commandoes of the IAF, has set off on foot to assist the existing 18-member team camping near the crash site.
“Helicopters, including Mi17s, Cheetah and ALH have been unable to approach the site during the last three days, because of inclement weather in the valleys and cloud cover over the crash site. Retrieval operations require the steep mountainsides to be visible for the helicopters to safely hover close to the crash site and for operating crew to be able to see the personnel on the ground,” IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Ratnakar Singh said in a statement.
Since Saturday, Cheetah and ALH helicopters have been on standby waiting for the weather to clear but it has not. The mortal remains lying on the slopes of the mountain against which the aircraft crashed need to be airlifted — but bad weather disallows hovering by helicopters at high altitudes.
The AN-32, which took off from the Air Force Station in Assam’s Jorhat on June 3 at 12.27 pm, never landed at the Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground in Shi Yomi district. The aircraft’s last contact with ground staff was at 12.55pm. The Cockpit Voice Recorder ( CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR) of the flight were recovered from the crash site last week.
On June 11, the IAF had said that the wreckage was spotted 16 Kms North of Lipo, North East of Tato at an approximate elevation of 12000 ft by the IAF Mi-17 Helicopter. The next day, a team of mountaineers comprising personnel from the IAF, the Army and civilians were air dropped to the nearest possible location to the crash site — and the 18-member team continued to camp near to the crash site as on Tuesday.
The crash site lies in remote part of Arunachal Pradesh close to the China border where adjacent districts of Siang and Shi Yomi border each other. There are no roads upto or communication at the crash site and hence airlifting is the preferred mode of recovery of the mortal remains.
Officials in the district administration and police in Siang and Shi Yomi that The Indian Express spoke to on Tuesday explained that the rough terrain, thickly forested, was very difficult to access in bad weather condition. “From the nearest landing point to the crash site, is a very, very steep descent of day of 5-6km. It’s very difficult in such weather. An additional team has set off on foot meet the existing team and help them,” a top police officer of Shi Yomi district said.
Wing Commander Singh described the additional team as, “A ground team comprising Garud commandos of the IAF, SF of Indian Army, civilian porters and hunters is already on its way to the accident site on foot. The first element of this trekking party is likely to reach the site late on 19 June.”
He continued, “The trekking team has 19 members 4 Garud commandos of IAF, 4 from Special forces of Army, 1 civilian hunter and 11 porters.”
Singh added that the plan was initiated when the “weather and clouds did not allow any helicopter flying”.
Singh added, “No efforts are being spared by IAF personnel to ensure that the mortal remains of their brothers in arms are retrieved at the earliest. The Army and Arunachal Pradesh state administration have all along have provided unflinching support.”