New Delhi. The Indian Air Force (IAF) located the wreckage of its missing AN 32 transport aircraft on June 11, eight days after it was lost while on a routine flight from Jorhat in Assam to Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh.
There were 13 crew and personnel on board, and IAF said that as a first priority, “efforts are now continuing to establish the status of occupants and establish survivors” and that “further details will be communicated as the recovery actions progress.”
IAF issued a press statement shortly after a Mi 17, part of the massive Search and Rescue effort, spotted the wreckage in the tough, mountainous terrain at a height of about 12,000 feet. There are blinding and unpredictable clouds, occasionally cumulonimbus, and from indications it appears that the aircraft crashed into a mountain. There are very dense forests.
A picture of the area from GoogleEarch indicates that it would be very difficult, but not impossible, for the search parties to reach there. IAF has already mobilized help from locals and the civil authorities for the rescue of possible survivors, and also to investigate the cause of the crash as per the mandatory and procedural Court of Inquiry.
The Army of course is there to help and is coordinating with the search efforts. IAF in fact sustains the lifeline for the troops in that region.
Due to the tough terrain, IAF has established half a dozen Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) in the area, under its 2008 Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI), wherever it found some valleys with enough flat land to create a hard airstrip, one of them being Machuka where the aircraft was headed.
According to the statement, the wreckage was “spotted today 16 Kms North of Lipo, North East of Tato at an approximate elevation of 12000 ft by an IAF Mi-17 Helicopter undertaking search in the expanded search zone.” It appears that if the aircraft had not crashed, it would have reached its destination in about 15-20 minutes.
The ill-fated An-32 had gone missing on June 3rd, while on a routine on 03 Jun 2019 after getting airborne from Air Force Station, Jorhat Assam
It may be recalled that in 2009, in a similar mishap, an AN 32 which had taken off from Mechuka for Jorhat, had also crashed with a similar number of crew and passengers, 13. A rather strange coincidence.
IAF had acquired more than 100 AN 32s from the Soviet Union at Friendship prices, and the aircraft have been the backbone of IAF’s transport fleet ever since. They were in fact configured to IAF specifications. But after the split of the Soviet Union, their upgrade is being done in cooperation with Ukraine, where they were manufactured.
But Russia, the emergent power out of the Soviet Union, annexed Ukraine’s Kiev province where the AN 32’s factory is located. There is a resulting disruption in the supply of spare parts, and India is trying to way out for some time.
Only about half of IAF’s fleet of 103 AN 32s have been upgraded so far, and this particular aircraft had only been “partially upgraded.”
Author: Shweta Sehgal