Plane crashes in same region, same month, with same toll a decade later
In an eerie coincidence, an AN-32 plane of the IAF went missing on Monday, exactly ten years after an accident involving an aircraft of the same make in the same region, in the same month, and ironically, with the same death toll.
The AN-32 plane went missing near Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh with 13 people, including eight crew members, on board. A massive search and rescue operation is on to locate the aircraft feared to have crashed.
Incidentally, an AN-32 aircraft had crashed in June 2009 after taking off from Mechuka killing all 13 on board. Another AN-32 with 29 on board had gone missing over the Bay of Bengal while it was on its way to Port Blair from Chennai in 2016 and is yet to be traced.
In the latest mishap, the ill-fated aircraft, popularly known as workhorse of the IAF, took off from Jorhat in Assam for Mechuka advanced landing ground with eight crew members and five passengers around 12.25 pm. The plane was last in radio touch and on radar till 1 pm and then went missing. The flying time between Jorhat and Mechuka is about 50 minutes and the distance, as the crow flies, is nearly 206 km.
After the plane failed to land at Mechuka, the IAF launched a search operation deploying SU-30 fighter jets for radar mapping of the terrain and C-310 J transport planes besides MI-17 helicopters. The local Army units were also pressed into service to trace the missing plane, sources said here. Defence Minister Rajnath tweeted about the incident and prayed for safety of the passengers. Following some ground reports about sighting of the wreckage, helicopters were diverted for search, but there was no success, officials said adding the search operations with the help of the Army will continue during the night also.
The Mechuka Advance Landing Ground is located in Mechuka Valley in West Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh. The landing strip is strategically located near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) facing China. The AN-32 planes provide the much needed logistical support to the troops located on the LAC due to paucity of road connectivity. Besides Mechuka, there are seven more advanced landing grounds in Arunachal Pradesh, where the AN-32s and helicopters can land to sustain the troops.
The terrain under the flight route of the AN-32 is mountainous and thickly forested. The landing and take-off approaches to Mechuka are extremely difficult. Coupled with erratic weather, the region is among the most inhospitable for air transport especially during this time of the year due to heavy clouds.
The An-32 is a Soviet-designed twin engine turboprop transport aircraft used extensively by the Indian Air Force since induction in 1984. At present, the IAF has more than 100 AN-32s and it ferries people and air-drop supplies. At least ten planes have met with mishaps since induction.
The medium transporter AN-32 is the workhorse of the IAF and its fleet is in the process of being upgraded to extend their service life. In 2009, India finalised a major upgrade and life extension plan for the entire fleet under a $400 million deal with Ukraine which would extend their life to 40 years. So far 46 aircraft have been upgraded of which 40 were done in Ukraine. The rest are being upgraded in India.
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