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Coast Guard Plane With 3 Crew Goes Missing, Massive Search On
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Fears mounted over the safety of a three-member crew of a Coast Guard Dornier surveillance aircraft that has gone missing off the coast of Tamil Nadu even as a massive search operation was launched to trace the plane.
Ships and aircraft were pressed into service for the search of the CG-791 plane which was in touch with airport authorities in Tiruchirappalli and was located last night about 16 nautical miles off the coast of Chidambaram, somewhere between Cuddalore and Karaikal, a top Coast Guard (CG) official said.
Eight ships -- four each belonging to CG and Navy -- are involved in the search operation upto 180 nautical miles in the northerly direction, Inspector General S P Sharma, Commander, Coast Guard (East), told reporters here.
A long-range maritime surveillance aircraft P81 and helicopters have also been involved in the exercise, he said, as questions were raised about the fate of the three crew comprising Pilot, Deputy Commandant Vidyasagar, Co-pilot Deputy Commandant M K Soni and Navigator Deputy Commandant Subash Suresh of the plane which was inducted last year.
The Coast Guard is in touch with the family members of the crew who are showing "resilience", the official said, expressing confidence about locating the aircraft soon.
The plane was undertaking a night sortie as part of CG's regular surveillance operations which look "for suspicious activities" in the seas when it lost contact at 9.23 PM yesterday, Sharma said.
It had taken off from Chennai at 5:30 PM and was being flown by a "highly qualified" and "well-trained" crew.
Moments before the plane went missing, it was trying to get in touch with air traffic control authorities, a senior CG official said.
"The aircraft CG-791 was deployed along the Tamil Nadu coast and Palk Bay from the Coast Guard Air Station Chennai last evening and it failed to return to the base," CG said, noting that the progress of search and rescue efforts is being closely monitored.
"There is tremendous coordination among various agencies involved in the search and rescue operation and we are confident that we will be able to locate the aircraft soon", the official said.
He said these aircraft cannot fly above 10,000 feet and are mainly used for low altitude maritime surveillance.
Officials maintained that while life-saving parachutes and other gadgets were available in the aircraft, the lower altitude of the plane could make an escape challenging.
Soon after receiving information, another Dornier aircraft was pressed into service to locate the missing aircraft, Sharma said.
"Sea and wind currents are moving from south to north direction... We are confident of finding the missing aircraft," he said.
The aircraft, inducted only last year, lost contact with the Coast Guard radar, the airports in Chennai and Tiruchirappalli and finally at around 11.45 PM yesterday the Air Traffic Control raised an "overdue" alarm, after the flight had exhausted its endurance capabilities, he said.
When asked whether an inquiry would be ordered, Sharma said this could take place after the search and rescue operation was completed.
In March, the Navy lost a Dornier surveillance aircraft when it crashed off Goa coast, killing two crew members.