Chennai: India on Saturday stepped up a major search operation for an air force plane that disappeared over the Bay of Bengal the day before with 29 people on board, as the defence minister headed to the region.
The AN-32 military transport plane was on a routine flight from the southern city of Chennai to Port Blair, capital of the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, on Friday morning when it vanished from radar screens.
Twenty-one of the passengers on board were defence personnel, including six crew members, while eight others worked for the military in non-uniform roles, an IAF source told AFP.
On its official Twitter account the Indian navy said 18 navy and coastguard ships were now deployed in the search operation, along with six aircraft and a submarine.
“#SAROps 18 Naval & ICG ships (+1sm) deployed with various aircraft… to locate missing AN 32” the navy tweeted.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar travelled to Tambaram air base on the outskirts of Chennai on Saturday morning, where he was briefed by military officials before departing for an aerial survey to monitor the ongoing operation.
“It lost contact with the radars approximately 150 nautical miles east of Chennai,” IAF Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee told AFP.
Several reports said weather in the Bay of Bengal had been rough owing to the southwest monsoon.
An IAF source said Friday radar data from the missing aircraft showed it making a sharp left turn before rapidly losing altitude.
The Russian-built AN-32, equipped with navigational aids, is the IAF’s workhorse aircraft and capable of flying for up to four hours without refuelling.
Experts have warned India’s outdated fleet — some of which dates back to the 1960s — is a threat to national security, with some aircraft virtually on their last legs.