AN-32 Indian Air Force
AN-32 Indian Air ForceWikimedia commons

An Indian Air Force AN-32 aircraft enroute to Port Blair from Chennai with 29 people on board, including eight civilians and six crew members, has gone missing. Over 12 Navy and Coast Guard ships, along with a submarine, have been deployed to locate the aircraft.

Officials said that the last contact with the aircraft, which had taken off from Tambaram air base near Chennai at 8:30 a.m., was made at 8:46 a.m. It was on a routine flight for Air Force personnel and was scheduled to land at INS Utkrosh Naval Air Station in Port Blair at 11:30 a.m.

The plane plunged from an altitude of 23,000 ft, an officer was quoted by NDTV as saying. It went off radar around 9:12 a.m., 280 kms east of Chennai. People on board included 11 Air Force personnel, two Army, one Navy personnel and a Coast Guard member.

The IAF aircraft had covered a distance of 1,375 km, according to ANI.

The aircraft consists of an emergency beacon locator that usually gets activated if the plane crashes, NDTV reported.

A "full-scale" search and rescue operation has been launched by the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard in the Bay of Bengal to locate the missing aircraft, Captain DK Sharma, Navy Public Relations Officer, said.

Three Dornier aircraft — one each from Port Blair and Arakkonam and one by the coast guard — and two P8-I military aircraft have been launched for the search operation. The coast guard has also sent a ship, CGS Sagar, to look for the missing aircraft, Captain Sharma added.

Thirteen Naval ships have been deployed to assist in the search operation â€” Sahyadri, Rajput, Ranvijay, Kamorta, Kirch, Karmuk, Kora, Kuthar, Shakti, Jyoti, Ghariyal and Sukanya. A navy submarine has also been deployed to track underwater transmission from the locator. The IAF has also launched a C-130J and a AN-32 aircraft for the purpose.

The Tamil Nadu Coastal Security Group has also deployed 12 fast moving interceptors from Chennai to Rameshwaram region to locate the missing plane, ANI reported. 

"Local Fishermen communities have also been told to inform about any suspicious floating objects," Sylendra Babu, Additional Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu Coastal Security Group was quoted by the news agency as saying.

"The aircraft is overdue as of now," he said, while adding that "more assets" will be launched to locate the plane. 

AN-32, courier flight, was carrying mostly military personnel to the strategic islands near the Malacca Straits, where India has a military base.

The IAF has over 100 AN-32 aircraft in service. AN-32 can fly for about four hours without refuelling. "These aircraft are very strong, they are used as supply planes for mountains and deserts," retired Air Force officer Praful Bakshi was quoted by NDTV as saying.