IAF plane with 29 on board missing en route to Andamans

An Indian Air Force AN-32 plane with 29 on board, including six crew members, went missing while flying from Chennai to Port Blair in the Andamans on Friday.

"The plane, which was on a routine courier service, took off at about 0830 hours from Tambaram and it was scheduled to land at Port Blair at 1130 hours but it is overdue," IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee said.

The Indian Coast Guard, Navy and the IAF have launched a massive joint search operation to locate the missing plane.

The aircraft was reportedly on a routine weekly flight for Air Force personnel, sources added.

The AN-32 is a twin-engine military transport aircraft of Russian make and used heavily by IAF.

The plane left the Tambaram air base near Chennai at 8.30 am for Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar islands. It was to have landed around 11.45 am.

"It was found missing. As of now, we will term it as overdue," said Navy spokesperson D K Sharma, in the afternoon.

It was a courier flight taking mostly service personnel to the strategic islands near the Malacca Straits, where India has a military base.

The last call from the aircraft was around 16 minutes after take-off, when the pilot reported that "everything is normal."

The plane fell off the radar at 9.12 am, 280 km east of Chennai. There were 11 air force personnel, two Army and one Navy personnel and a Coast Guard member on board.

The plane has an emergency beacon locator, which usually gets activated if there is a crash. The navy submarine has been sent to track any underwater transmission from the locator.

The Navy has also sent five surveillance aircraft including a Dornier, and 13 ships - Sahyadri, Rajput, Ranvijay, Kamorta, Kirch, Karmuk, Kora, Kuthar, Shakti, Jyoti,  Ghariyal and Sukanya.

There are more than 100 Russian-made AN-32s in service with the IAF. It is an aircraft that can fly for up to four hours without refuelling and operate in all weather conditions.

"These aircraft are very strong, they are used as supply planes for mountains and deserts," said retired Air Force officer Praful Bakshi.