Chennai/New Delhi: An Indian Air Force's AN 32 transport plane on Friday went missing with 29 people on board, including six crew members, while it was on its way from near Chennai to Port Blair, home to tri-service command.
A massive search and rescue operation has been launched by the IAF, Navy and the Coast Guard, deploying five aircraft and 13 ships for tracking the plane which made the last radio contact at 0846 hours, 16 minutes after take off from Tambaram air base.
The 29 people on board the Air Force's workhorse for a long period included two pilots, a navigator besides personnel from the Navy and the Army.
"The plane, which was on a routine courier service, took off at about 0830 hours from Tambaram and it was scheduled to land at Port Blair at 1130 hours but it is overdue," IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee said.
Defence sources said the plane was at about 23,000 feet when the last contact was established.
While IAF has pressed into service a C130 plane along with two AN32, the Navy has deployed two P8i maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft from the strategically important Port Blair.
The Navy has pressed into service two Dornier aircraft and 13 ships with the Eastern Fleet Commander on board for the search and rescue operation.
Navy spokesperson Captain D K Sharma said, "Navy has been deployed in full force in the Bay of Bengal for the search and rescue operation."
Meanwhile, Coast Guard said their reconnaissance Dornier aircraft has reached the site from where the IAF plane had sent the signals for the last time.
"Our Dornier (plane) has reached the site where the signals were sent by the (IAF) aircraft for the last time.
We are looking for clues," said a senior Coast Guard official.
Coast Guard has rushed four ships--ICGS Sagar and Samudra Pehredar from Chennai and ICGS Rajshree and ICGS Rajveer from Port Blair--to the spot.
Another ships ICGS Vishwasth has been on stand-by at Port Blair.
"The ships should reach the spot by night. But the rough sea is making the operations difficult," the official added.
The plane was overhauled and went through an upgrade in September 2015, according to the note given to the Defence Ministry.
The plane had reported three snags this month, according to the note - a pressure leak from the port door, a hydraulic leak and sluggish throttle movement.
The Defence Ministry said the submarine had been deployed to locate transmissions from an emergency locator beacon on the aircraft. The AN-32 is a workhorse of the air force, chosen for its ability to operate from short runways.
The air force has 101 of the AN-32s that entered service in 1984 and have gone through mid-life upgrades and life extensions since then.