New Delhi, July 26: It has been five days since Indian Air Force's AN-32 disappeared mysteriously on July 22 morning and went off radar. In last five days, intense search operations have proved to be futile so far.
While interacting with media today, the Minister of State for Defence, Subhash Bhambre said that "unfortunately, we have not been able to trace anything, so far", while adding that "massive deployment has been ordered and search operation is underway". [IAF's AN-32 missing: All you need to know about the aircraft]
During the Question Hour, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was asked about the status of the missing planeon which he replied, "There are 4-5 small leads and attempts are being made to verify them," he said, adding, however, that there has been no confirmed finding yet.
Asserting that the government had spared no efforts in locating the plane, Parrikar said the government had used satellite imagery and deployed 30 ships and submarines for the purpose.
Responding to questions about quality of AN-32, he said it is one of the safest aircraft and there have been reports of only two accidents in the last ten years. There have been some minor snags at times, he said.
Earlier in the day, Parrikar had said, "A lot of resources are in place. All leads till now have turned out to be bad. We are trying to concentrate on some links or sound which has emitted from some area. Trying to find out, that needs to be ascertained but there were some false leads but false leads of similar type."
He said that a state of art ice-class research vessel, Sagar Nidhi, of the National Institute of Ocean Technology has been called for from Mauritius.
"That will reach but any deep vessel to operate, it will need specific area. "Because deep vessels which go inside cannot go and search per se unless you have some definite small area. So last time (Doriner crash), submarine had identified the location and then we had send it (deep sea vessel of Reliance). It is a secondary operation after initial identification," Parrikar said.
Parrikar also refuted claims of a senior Coast Guard official who said that the the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) had not functioned during the Dornier crash also.
"I think the submarine finally located the Dornier with the same beeps. Initially sound might not have come due to depth of water but when the submarine went in there, they identified the location. Can't say whether it is operating or not now but we have not been able to hear it," he said.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha's emotional message
On Monday, July 25, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha called it "unfortunate" adding that a detailed probe will be done in the incident.
In an emotional message meanwhile, Raha called the event a "painful reminder" of the inherent risks personnel face in the execution of their daily missions. [Missing IAF aircraft: Hopes of survivors recede]
"It is very unfortunate that we have not been able to trace the missing aircraft and the personnel on board. It is a very difficult moment for all of us and we share the concerns of the distraught family members," he said in a statement.
"IAF authorities are in constant touch with the family members of the missing personnel and they are being regularly updated about the efforts being made to trace the missing aircraft and personnel... Events like these are painful reminders of the inherent risks which our brave personnel face in the execution of our daily missions.
"A thorough inquiry will be conducted to ascertain exactly what led to this unfortunate event. The IAF remains committed to provide the best possible equipment and training to our personnel so that they can execute their assigned missions professionally," he said.
"Because of its excellent operational performance, AN-32 has been landing at Daulat Beg Oldie, which is the highest landing ground in the world. Needless to say that capable aircrew are chosen to fly these aircraft," he added.
Indian Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba's statement
Lanba said a total 250 hours of sorties have been flown in search of the plane, and all leads found are being followed.
"The coordinated efforts between Indian Navy, IAF (Indian Air Force) and Coast Guard is continuing. All together 17 ships and 17-18 aircraft are searching designated areas. Over 250 hours of sorties have been flown," he said.
"We have got inputs from satellite images and also from sensors of the aircraft. All leads have been followed. It is an ongoing search at the moment," he said.
Search goes on
Sources said satellites had picked some pointers and the area indicated was being searched, but no debris or signals from the aircraft could be spotted.
Meanwhile, sources in the Air Force said the reason of the incident is too early to be ascertained but indicated that weather could have played a role.
"The weather was bad but the pilot had taken the required steps," a senior source said.
The AN-32 aircraft, belonging to 33 Squadron, with 29 people onboard went off the radar on July 22nd morning over the Bay of Bengal half an hour after take off from Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai on its journey to Port Blair.
The recorded transcript of Chennai air traffic radar showed the last pickup of the aircraft was 151 nautical miles east of Chennai when it was observed to have carried out a left turn with rapid loss of height from 23,000 feet.
AN-32 transport aircraft was inducted into the Indian Air Force between 1984-1991.
(With agencies' inputs)