Myanmar military plane missing over Andaman Sea

Ships and planes are scouring the coast of southern Myanmar after a military aircraft vanished over the Andaman Sea with more than 100 soldiers, family members and crew on board, officials say.

YANGON • A Myanmar military plane carrying 104 people went missing yesterday over the Andaman Sea, sparking an air and sea search.

Debris was found in the Andaman Sea late yesterday, a local official and an air force source told AFP.

"Now they have found pieces of the damaged plane in the sea 218km away from Dawei city," said tourism official in Myeik city Naing Lin Zaw, adding that the navy was still searching the sea. Dawei is a port town an hour's flight south of Yangon, Myanmar's commercial capital.

Communication was lost suddenly at about 1:35 pm when the aircraft was about 36km west of Dawei town, the office of military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing said in a statement.

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Four naval ships and two air force planes were involved in the search for the plane, which was flying between the southern city of Myeik and Yangon at more than 18,000 feet when it went missing.

Officials said 90 passengers - servicemen from Myeik air force command and family members - were on board the aircraft as well as 14 crew members.

The plane was delivered in March last year and had 809 flying hours, they said.

"We think it was a technical failure. Weather is fine there," an airport source told AFP, asking not to be named.

Myanmar's military fleet has a chequered recent history of plane crashes. All five crew members died when an air force plane burst into flames soon after taking off from the capital Naypyitaw in February last year. Three army officers were killed in June when their Mi-2 helicopter crashed into a hillside and burst into flames in south-central Bago.

The missing plane is a Y-8F-200 four-engine turboprop, a Chinese- made model still commonly used by Myanmar's military for transporting cargo. The former military junta bought many of the aircraft from Myanmar's giant neighbour during their 50 years of isolated rule, when they were squeezed by Western sanctions.

A former executive at Myanmar's aviation ministry said it was one of China's most popular military and civilian transport aircraft.

A surge in demand for air travel as Myanmar opens up has stretched the impoverished country's aviation infrastructure, in particular in remote airports.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2017, with the headline 'Myanmar military plane missing over Andaman Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe