An AN-32 transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force with 13 people on board went missing about 35 minutes after taking off from Jorhat in Assam at 12.27pm on Monday, IAF sources said.
The AN-32 was headed for the IAF-maintained Mechuka advanced landing ground in West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh, 29km from the Sino-Indian border.
Wing Commander Ratnakar Singh told The Telegraph: “The aircraft, with eight crew members and five passengers on board, lost contact with ground agencies around 1pm, about 35 minutes after take-off. The army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police have fanned out in search of the missing AN-32.”
An IAF statement said: “A total of eight air crew and five passengers were on board
the aircraft. C-130, AN-32 aircraft, two IAF Mi-17 helicopters and Indian Army’s advance light helicopter were launched to locate the missing aircraft. Some ground reports were received on possible location of a crash site.
Helicopters were routed to the location. However, no wreckage has been sighted so far. IAF is coordinating with the Indian Army as well as various government and civil agencies to locate the missing aircraft. The search operations from air and by ground parties of Indian Army are planned to continue through the night.”
A source said the aircraft wreckage has been spotted at Tato near Payum, around 50km from Mechuka Valley. However, there was no official confirmation till the time of filing this news report.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh tweeted at 4.19pm: “Spoke to Vice Chief of @IAF_MCC, Air Marshal Rakesh Singh Bhadauria regarding the missing AN 32 Aircraft which is overdue for some hours. He has apprised me of the steps taken by the IAF to find the missing aircraft. I pray for the safety of all passengers on board.”
Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu tweeted: “Praying for safety of all 13 persons who were on board on Indian Air Force AN-32 plane which took off from Jorhat Station for Mechuka ALG at around 1pm and is reportedly missing. Our all support to the IAF that have launched its search operation.”
Uncannily, a decade ago, on June 9, 2009, another IAF AN-32 with 13 people on board had gone missing on its way from the Mechuka ALG to Rowriah airport in Jorhat. Following massive search operations, its wreckage was found the next day around 60km from Mechuka. All the 13 persons on board were killed in the crash.
In July 2016, another AN-32 had disappeared over the Bay of Bengal with 29 people on board. The aircraft, heading to Andaman and Nicobar Islands, lost contact with the radar almost an hour after it took off from the Tambaram air force station, Chennai.
The aircraft was never found and the search was called off on September 2016. All 29 on board were presumed dead.
On April 30, 2011, five persons including Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu, who took off in single engine EuroCopter B8 of Pawan Hans, died after the chopper crashed between Kyela and Lubuthang near Tawang district. The wreckage was found on May 4, 2011.
- Additional reporting by our New Delhi and Calcutta bureaus