Why no trace of missing An-32 even after a month?

New Delhi: On 22 July 2016, an Antonov An-32 twin engine turboprop medium lift transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force disappeared while flying over the Bay of Bengal. The aircraft was en route from Tambaram Air Force Station in the city of Chennai to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Radar contact with the aircraft was lost at 9:12 am, 280 kilometres (170 miles) east of Chennai.

There were 29 people on board the aircraft: 6 crew members; 11 Indian Air Force personnel, 2 Indian Army soldiers, one each from the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard, and 8 defence civilians working with Naval Armament Depot (NAD). The 8 civilian passengers were from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

The Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard launched a large search and rescue operation, using a submarine, 12 surface vessels and 5 aircrafts. The AN-32 is still not traced even after one month.

During the massive joint operation by the defence forces and the scientific organisations such as National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the agencies  hoped to find the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) which would have lasted only a month. But with a month passing by, it only seems to make things extremely difficult to find the debris of the aircraft.

The Director of Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) Dr. Satish Shenoi said that they have found nothing conclusive with regards to the search for debris of the aircraft.

He further added that the depth of the search area is around 3000 to 4000 meters and we are imaging using acoustic signals and it will look like an ultrasound and needs expert reading of the data.

Forty-eight years back, a similar incident had perplexed the nation when an Indian Air Force plane AN-12-BL-534 simply vanished as it made its way from Chandigarh to Leh.

In 1968, the aircraft carrying 98 defence personnel was just about to land at its destination when orders were given out to the pilot from ground control to turn back due to bad weather conditions. On its way back to Chandigarh, the flight suddenly lost all contact with the ground control while flying over Rohtang pass. An extensive search was carried out hours after the ground control lost touch with the aircraft personnel. The search went on for months, but did not lead to any success. The fact that no remains had been found of such a big plane made the prospect of a crash seem unlikely.

In 2003, 35 years after the plane went missing, a trekking party in Spiti region of Northern Himachal stumbled upon the remains of a human corpse which was soon identified as that of Indian Army soldier Beli Ram, one of the passengers on board AN-12. Soon after, a team was dispatched by the Indian Army and the Air Force to recover remains of more human passengers.

Apart from retrieving more bodies that had gone missing, the cause behind the fading away of the aircraft was also discovered. It was realised that the flight had descended before expected and had fallen into the Dakka glacier.

In view of the terrain and complexities involved in search and rescue (SAR) missions, it is imperative to pray for the missing personnel safety and keep looking for the clues in finding out the reasons for such incidents.

Hope government is showing empathy on the plight of kith and kin of missing personnel and allocate maximum resources to trace the missing AN-32 as soon as possible.

Primepost Bureau

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