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Indian Air Force Transport Aircraft An 32 'Lost' Again At The Line of Actual Control Along China In Arunachal Pradesh

Indian Air Force transport Aircraft An 32 is missing again in Arunachal Pradesh. Full scale search operation by the three wings of Armed Forces are underway near the probable crash site at Payum-Tato village in Arunachal Pradesh. IAF has denied that any wreckage has been found so far.

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Extensive efforts are on to locate the Indian Air Force AN-32, which went missing on 03 Jun 19. The aircraft got airborne from Jorhat Airfield for Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground which is very close at the Line of Actual Control with China. Once the aircraft did not report at the destination, overdue actions were initiated. Indian Air Force commenced extensive search and rescue operations and launched C-130, AN-32, Mi-17 and ALH (Indian Army) helicopters. 

IAF has also issued a statement, denying reports that the wreckage of its AN-32 aircraft is found. There were misleading reports that  the wreckage of missing  IAF AN-32 aircraft has been found near Payum-Tato village in Arunachal Pradesh. Information from the Indian Air Force suggests the site as the 'searching zone' according to the last message received by the ground control radio transmitter. 

The aircraft are equipped with advanced sensors. Indian Navy P-8 I aircraft joined the search operations today. CARTOSAT AND RISAT satellites of ISRO are also taking images of the area. according to the reports from Indian Air Force, post sunset, search by helicopters have ceased for the day. However, search by all sensors with night capability and the ground party will continue throughout the night. 

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also spoke to IAF Vice Chief and Air Marshal Rakesh Singh Bhadauria and prayed for the safety of all passengers on board.

On Twitter, Singh wrote, "Spoke to Vice Chief of IAF Air Marshal Rakesh Singh Bhadauria regarding the missing IAF AN-32 Aircraft which is overdue for some hours. He has apprised me of the steps taken by the IAF to find the missing aircraft. I pray for the safety of all passengers on board".

Indian Army, Indian Navy, Police and State administration have been deployed in the areas to speed up the effort. There were 13 military personnel on board and with no clue near sight, feared dead. The families of all air-warriors on board the aircraft have been informed and are being regularly updated on the progress of search for the missing aircraft. 

Startlingly, not long ago, the Antonov An-32 of the Indian Air Force had disappeared over the Bay of Bengal with 29 people onboard in July 2016. In a similar fashion, the aircraft lost contacts and went off the radar moment after it took off from the Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai for the base in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

And, subsequently, the search operation began which was so far the largest search operation undertaken by IAF to locate the missing AN-32. The aircraft was never found and presumed to have crashed with all the people onboard. The search operations were called off on September 2016 and it remained the unsolved mystery. 

Now the misery of An AN-32 aircraft brigs back the story of another crash near a village in West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh in June 2009 in which left 13 defence personnel killed. 

After the crash in 2009, Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a USD400 million contract with Ukraine to upgrade the IAF’s 105-strong fleet of An-32s by overhauling the aircraft’s Ivchenko AI-20 turboprop engines and airframes and upgrading the platforms with advanced avionics, navigation, and communication equipment. Antonov was a erstwhile Soviet aircraft company which later became an Ukrainian, aircraft manufacturing company as the assembly line and units were based in Ukraine. 

But soon, the process suffered a major blow due to the geopolitical conflicts between Russia and Ukraine over the Crimean peninsula as they refused to exchange parts with each other required to retrofit and upgrade the ageing fleet. The AN-32 is a Cold War era aircraft which is widely used in transporting cargo, disaster relief operation, air-dropping cargo, medical evacuation in crisis and operates on short and medium range air routes. 

It was the result of good camaraderie between USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev and Indira Gandhi that lead to the purchase of An fleets in 1980.

The AN-32, also known as the 'Sutlej' in the IAF, is called the workhorse fleet often deployed  to deliver much-needed supplies to the Army outposts in the area and Antonov or An class of aircraft have long served the Indian Air Force and Navy for over five decades. But it has also been marred in at least four crashes or disappearances of AN-32s. Whether the aircraft was unsuitable to take mission or extreme weather condition in the mountainous terrain of Arunachal Pradesh, the issue of airworthiness crops up. Such crashes call for immediate measures and halt the further deployment of An 32 by IAF until the upgrades of avionics and interface match the modern parameters.