NEW DELHI (AFP) - India on Friday (July 22) mounted a search and rescue operation for an Indian Air Force plane that went missing with 29 people on board.
Surveillance aircraft and navy and coastguard ships began the search in the Bay of Bengal after the aircraft disappeared shortly after taking off from the southern city of Chennai on its way to Port Blair, capital of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
“Full scale search & rescue launched to look for IAF AN 32 overdue at Port Blair since 1130 hrs. Max assets being deployed at earliest,” the defence ministry tweeted.
The last contact with the Russian-built Antonov AN-32 military transport plane, which was carrying service personnel and six crew members, was made around 15 minutes after take-off from Chennai, an IAF spokesman said.
“A search operation is on. The plane was airborne at 8.30am (11am Singapore time)and was supposed to land at Port Blair at 11.30am,” Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee said.
The Press Trust of India news agency reported AN-32s can fly for four hours without refuelling.
The Indian Air Force, which relies heavily on Russian-made equipment and has around 100 AN-32s in its fleet, has a poor safety record.
In one of the worst disasters involving an AN-32 in India, 20 people on board died while three civilians were burnt to death when the plane crashed near a New Delhi airport in 1999.
And in 2013, all 20 people on board a military helicopter were killed when it crashed in northern India.
The Indian air force has gradually been getting rid of some of its older planes, some of which date back to the 1960s. Experts have warned India’s delay in revamping its outdated military aircraft threatens national security, with some of the fleet virtually on their last legs.
New deals have been mired in bureaucratic wrangles, most notably the agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault Aviation, which has been pending since 2012.
India is the world’s largest arms importer, with the US its number one supplier. The South Asian nation has been trying to develop its own warplanes but delays and technical shortcomings have marred progress.