The debris of the IAF’s AN-32 twin-engine aircraft, which vanished on July 22, 2016, with 29 people on board, has been located after seven years at a depth of 3.4 km below the sea surface.
The aircraft had taken off from the Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai at around 8:30 am and was due to arrive at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands around 11 am. However, radar communication with the plane was lost at approximately 9:12 am, when the aircraft was about 280 kilometres east of Chennai.
The aircraft carried a total of 29 individuals, comprising six crew members, 11 Indian Air Force personnel, two Indian Army soldiers, one representative from both the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard and eight defence civilians employed at the Naval Armament Depot, reported by the Hindustan Times.
A search and rescue operation launched immediately after the crash became one of the most extensive for an aircraft in Indian history. The operation was suspended by the ministry on September 15, 2016, as no underwater beacon was located by the Indian Army soldiers.
As per the official statements on Friday, a few metal parts were spotted in the Bay of Bengal last week during a routine testing of an automatic underwater vehicle (AUV) deployed by the Chennai-based National Institute of Ocean Technology.
“The first thing it saw was a chakra, a three-coloured emblem. When the people at NIOT saw it they first thought it might be the remains of a ship-wreck. Some nearby areas were also searched and a few metal pieces were observed. We sent the images to the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. The IAF identified it as their plane,” M Ravichandran, Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences under which NIOT functions, The Indian Express reported.
“The search images were scrutinised and found to be conforming with an AN-32 aircraft. This discovery at the probable crash site, with no other recorded history of any other missing aircraft report in the same area, points to the debris as possibly belonging to the crashed IAF AN-32,” the Defence Ministry said in its official statement.