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An Indian air force plane carrying 29 people went missing on Friday on a flight to a remote island chain in the Bay of Bengal, the defence ministry said.
The Russian made AN-32 was on its way to Port Blair, the capital of India’s Andaman and Nicobar chain of islands, from the southeast city of Chennai when it disappeared from radar.
There were 21 military personnel on board including six crew. The other people on board were civilians, some of them family members of soldiers deployed on the islands.
“It was a routine courier mission to Port Blair, the plane was airborne at 8:30 a.m. and due to land at 11:30,” air force spokesman Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee said.
India has been beefing up its military presence in the Andamans in recent years.
The islands are near the Malacca Straits, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes which link the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and East Asia.
The defence ministry said four surveillance planes, 12 ships and a submarine were searching for the aircraft in one of India’s largest search and rescue operations in recent years.
The plane went missing about 300 km (186 mile) east of Chennai, the ministry said in a statement. The Andamans are about 750 nautical miles from mainland India.
The defence ministry said the submarine had been deployed to locate transmissions from an emergency locator beacon on the AN-32 aircraft. The plane is a workhorse of the air force, chosen for its ability to operate from short runways.
IAF plane goes missing
The AN-32 aircraft took off from the southern city of Chennai at 8.30am and was flying over the Bay of Bengal to the city of Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. It was due to land at Port Blair at 11.30am Indian time
The last contact with the Russian-built Antonov AN-32 military transport plane was made around 15 minutes after take-off from Tambaram (Chennai) air base, according to an IAF spokesman. Defence sources said the plane was at about 23,000 feet when the last contact was established.
Who were on board
There were 6 crew members (including 3 officers), 11 other IAF personnel (1 officer), 2 Army jawans, 1 Coast Guard sailor, 1 Navy sailor and 8 naval civilians on board the aircraft.
Massive search operation underway
IAF has pressed into service a C130 plane along with two AN32. The Navy has deployed two P8i maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft from the strategically important Port Blair.
13 Navy ships join search operation
The Navy has also pressed into service two Dornier aircraft and 13 ships with the Eastern Fleet Commander on board for the search and rescue operation.
Submarine diverted to Bay of Bengal
Navy has diverted a submarine to Bay of Bengal to detect underwater transmissions of the missing AN-32 aircraft.