No trace of missing IAF plane; Isro satellites to join search

The hunt continued for Indian Air Force plane that went missing in stormy monsoon weather over the Bay of Bengal on Friday with 29 people on board entered its fourth day on Monday.

The AN-32 plane left the Tambaram air base near Chennai at 8.30 am on Friday and was to have landed at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands around 11.45 am. It fell off the radar at 9.12 am, 280 km east of Chennai. It made the last radio contact at 8:46 am, 16 minutes after take-off, when the pilot reported that "everything is normal".

Air Force and Navy officials said the search was continuing but no signs of any wreckage had so far been found.

As many as 18 Navy and Coast Guard ships including a submarine and eight aircraft like the P 81, C130 and Dorniers are involved in a massive search operation in the Bay of Bengal, about 150 nautical miles east of Chennai, where inclement weather appeared to be a hurdle.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who was in Chennai on Saturday, undertook a two-hour aerial survey of the area of operation. He instructed that more resources should be diverted for the purpose if necessary.

The sea is very rough and there is thick cloud cover in the area, sources said, adding he has directed all Naval commanders to be in touch with families and provide them information that may be required, they said.

After 48 hours of frantic search involving assets drawn from Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard, Indian Air Force authorities have lodged a formal complaint with Tamil Nadu police over the missing aircraft.

The aircraft, which had six crew members and eight civilians (family members), may have plunged rapidly from an altitude of 23,000 feet, said an officer.

Parrikar was briefed on the search operations of the missing aircraft.

The Indian space agency will be using its Radar Imaging Satellite (RISAT) that can see through the clouds to try and locate the missing plane, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) Chairman A S Kiran Kumar told IANS.

Meanwhile, family members of those on board were eagerly waiting for news about the aircraft. The son of one of the men on board the missing plane has a message for fellow Indians.

"I want to request all my fellow Indians through NDTV to pray for my father and all people on board. I feel my father is safe. I want all of you to pray they all come back unharmed," said Ashutosh Singh, son of Bhupath Singh, who was on the missing aircraft.

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 can operate in all weather conditions.