Parrikar monitors search operations but no sign of missing IAF plane

Chennai/New Delhi: The search for the missing AN-32 aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) continued on Saturday with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar flying down to Tamil Nadu to personally monitor the operations but no trace of it was found till late evening. The search continued with more assets being pulled in, even as the rough seas posed a challenge. The AN-32 transport aircraft with 29 people on board went missing on Friday over the Bay of Bengal off the Chennai coast. Indian Air Force (IAF) spokesman Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee told IANS that no signs of the missing aircraft were found so far. "The search operations are continuing but we have not found any signs of the missing aircraft yet," he said. Meanwhile, the Indian space agency said it will be using its Radar Imaging Satellite (RISAT) that can see through the clouds to locate the missing plane. "We will be using RISAT to locate the missing aircraft. The satellite can take pictures both during the day and night. It can see through the clouds," Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar told IANS in Chennai. Defence Minister Parrikar flew down to Arakkonam in Tamil Nadu, and flew on a P8I maritime surveillance aircraft, accompanied by IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha and Eastern Naval Command chief, Vice Admiral H.C.S. Bisht to review the search operation.  Arakkonam has Indian Navy's base INS Rajali, around 70 km from the IAF base in Tambaram from where the AN-32 has taken off. "Defence Minister reviewed the situation and utilisation of assets and resources and has directed that if necessary more resources be diverted to the effort," said a Defence Ministry officials. "The Minister was appraised of the difficult conditions under which the operations are being carried out during the last 24 hours. The sea is very choppy and there is thick cloud cover in the area," the official said. Parrikar has directed all top officials to be in touch with the families of those who were on board and provide them information that may be required. A statement from Indian Navy said the minister was briefed about the challenges of undertaking SAR under monsoon conditions with heavy rain, cloud cover, rough sea condition and most importantly, depths of over 3,500 metres in the area. He was also briefed about future plans involving additional ships and submarine that were heading for the area to join in the search operations. The IAF has deployed two C-130 aircraft equipped with electro-optical and infra-red sensors. Indian Navy P8I aircraft equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar along with Dorniers are also taking part in this operation. Indian Navy has deployed 13 ships in the search area and is being assisted by six ships of Indian Coast Guard and merchant vessels in the area. A submarine has also been deployed for the task. "The Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre at Chennai has been coordinating round the clock surveillance towards search effort along with Southern Air Command of IAF, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard," an official statement said.  Navy Spokesperson D.K. Sharma said the operations will continue 24x7. "The operations are to continue 24x7 till we find signs of the missing aircraft," Sharma told IANS. Another challenge remains the fact that the last position of the aircraft is not known. The aircraft, an upgraded AN-32 belonging to 33 Squadron, took off from Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai at 8.30 a.m., and was expected to land at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at 11.30 a.m., officials said, describing it as a "routine sortie". The recorded transcript of Chennai air traffic radar showed last pickup of the aircraft was 151 nautical miles east of Chennai, when the aircraft was observed to have carried out a left turn with rapid loss of height from 23,000 feet. The search and rescue operation by Indian Navy and Coast Guard, which went on through the night, continued on Saturdaay and more assets were deployed. The AN-32 is a twin engine turboprop, medium tactical transport aircraft of Russian origin. It can carry a maximum load of around 6.7 tonne or 39 paratroopers. Its maximum cruise speed is 530 kmph. An Indian defence forces pilot, who did not want to be identified, told IANS that planes are designed to fly even during an emergency and "an AN-32 aircraft will not drop down like a stone or vanish into thin air in the case of normal emergency, as there will be reaction time but in the case of a catastrophic threat, the pilots will not have the necessary reaction time".