New Delhi: The wreckage of the Indian Air Force’s An-32 transport plane that went missing in 2016 over the Bay of Bengal with 29 people on board has been found, the defence ministry said on Friday. The plane went off the radar while flying from the Tambaram airbase in Chennai to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, on July 22, 2016.
At that time, the IAF and other agencies launched a long and elaborate search for the plane in the sea but failed to find it.
In its release, the defence ministry said the wreckage of the aircraft was found after a search was conducted at a depth of 3,400 metres [in the Bay of Bengal] using multiple payloads, including a multi-beam sonar (sound navigation and ranging), synthetic-aperture sonar, and high-resolution photography. It further said the analysis of search images had indicated the presence of debris of a crashed aircraft on the seabed approximately 140 nautical miles (around 310 kilometres) from the Chennai coast.
It then said: “The search images were scrutinized and found to be conforming with an An-32 aircraft. This discovery at the probable crash site, with no other recorded history of any other missing-aircraft report in the same area, points to the debris as possibly belonging to the crashed IAF An-32 (K-2743).”
This ends one of the greatest mysteries of a missing plane in not just the IAF’s history but India’s aviation history as well. Friday’s discovery of the aircraft’s debris is expected to bring a closure to the families of those who were on board the plane on that fateful day.
The aircraft went missing on July 22, 2016, after it took off from the Tambaram airbase in Chennai for Port Blair at around 8.30am. However, it went off the radar at 9.12am. There were 29 people on the plane. Apart from the six IAF crew members, there were 11 other IAF personnel, two Indian Army soldiers, one each from the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard. Also on board were eight civilians, who were working with the Indian Navy’s armament depot.
The Russian-origin An-32 has been the workhorse for the IAF for decades. The service still maintains a fleet of over 100 An-32s for transporting troops and logistics. Although the plane has made a formidable reputation for itself, it has met with several accidents causing loss of life and property. According to IAF sources, the An-32 fleet is currently being upgraded and modernized with advanced avionics, communications systems, landing gear, etc.