A rescue operation has commenced at the crash site of IAF’s AN-32 aircraft that went missing on June 3 and was spotted 16 kilometres north of Lipo in Arunachal Pradesh by Mi-17 helicopters on Tuesday.
Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) and Mi17s of Indian Army are being utilised for the rescue operation that began Wednesday morning, news agency ANI said in a tweet.
With eight crew members and five armed forces personnel on board, the IAF aircraft lost contact with the ground control before it went off radar on June 3. The Russian-made plane, which was on its way to Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground in Shi-Yomi district of Arunachal Pradesh from Jorhat in Assam, went missing 33 minutes after it took off at 12.27 am.
An IAF official said after identifying the wreckage of the AN 32, a Cheetah helicopter and an ALH chopper reached the crash site but could not land due to high elevation and dense forest.
Taking to Twitter, the IAF said: “The wreckage of the missing #An32 was spotted today 16 km north of Lipo, north east of Tato at an approximate elevation of 12000 ft by the IAF Mi-17 Helicopter undertaking search in the expanded search zone.” The force added that "efforts are now continuing to establish the status of occupants & establish survivors".
Later in the day, the IAF said the search will resume on Wednesday morning. Another official said the IAF will send its special commandos 'Garud' to the crash site and carry out an exercise to look for possible survivors.
Deputy Commissioner of Siang district Rajeev Takuk said the wreckage was spotted near Pari hills, close to Gatte village under Payum circle in Arunachal Pradesh. "The wreckage was spotted near Pari hills, a few kilometres from Gatte village. However, the area is inaccessible as there is no road communication," he said.
The IAF had on Saturday announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh to anyone providing information about the location of the AN-32 transport aircraft after rough weather hampered search operations.
On Saturday, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa reviewed the overall search operation at a high-level meeting in Assam's Jorhat airbase. He also interacted with the families of the officers and airmen who were on board the aircraft.
The assets deployed for the operation included Sukhoi-30 aircraft in addition to a fleet of C-130J and AN-32 planes and Mi-17 and ALH helicopters. The ground forces included troops from the Army, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the State police.
The IAF had been regularly updating the families of all air warriors on board the aircraft about the rescue operation.
The Indian Navy's P-8I aircraft was deployed earlier this week as it has electro-optical and infra-red sensors, which could be helpful in the search operation. IAF officials said ISRO's Cartosat and RISAT satellites are taking images of the area around Menchuka to help the rescuers find the plane.
An AN-32 aircraft had crashed near a village in West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh in June 2009 in which 13 defence personnel were killed. The aircraft had crashed over the Rinchi Hill above Heyo village, about 30 km from Mechuka advance landing ground.
In July 2016, an AN-32 aircraft went missing after taking off from Chennai for Port Blair with 29 people on board. The aircraft could not be traced even after weeks of massive search operations covering 2,17,800 square nautical miles by multiple aircraft.
Months later, an IAF court of inquiry concluded that it was unlikely that the missing personnel on board the aircraft would have survived the accident.