Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

Is IAF’s AN- 32 going the missing MH370 way?

Narada Desk | July 23, 2016 3:48 pm Print
A Coast Guard official has said that there were no sightings of any aircraft debris in the Bay of Bengal by the search team.

File Pix : The IAF's missing AN- 32 aircraft

It looks like the missing IAF aircraft AN -32 could be well heading the fate of Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 with no sightings of debris yet. It has been over 24 hours since the IAF aircraft went missing and there are no traces as to where it has gone.

The mystery surrounding Malaysian Airliner MH-370 continues as no remains of the plane have yet been recovered despite a joint effort by three major nations. The missing Malaysian Airlines plane, flight MH370, had 239 people onboard and was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March, 2014, when air traffic control staff lost contact with it.

“The search is going on. If there is any substantial development, it will be made known,” Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee, Public Relations Officer for IAF said over the phone from New Delhi.

A Coast Guard official said there were no sightings of any aircraft debris in the Bay of Bengal by the search team.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is set to visit Chennai to monitor the search operations, said an official.

Only a catastrophic accident in a “no talk/radio zone” or “dead zone” could destroy an aircraft suddenly, an experienced pilot with the Indian defence forces said late Friday.

Those on board comprised six crew members, 15 personnel from the IAF, Army, Navy and Coast Guard, and eight civilians who were family members of the personnel.

The aircraft, an upgraded AN-32 belonging to 33 Squadron, took off from Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai at 8.30 a.m., and was expected to land at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at 11.30 a.m., officials said, describing it as a “routine sortie”.

A report submitted to Parrikar by Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha stated that according to the recorded transcript of Chennai air traffic radar, the last pickup was 151 nautical miles east of Chennai, when the aircraft was observed to have carried out a left turn with rapid loss of height from 23,000 feet.

A massive search and rescue operation involving aircraft, helicopters, ships and a submarine was launched immediately to find the plane that went missing around 300 km off Chennai. The last contact with the aircraft was established roughly around 15-20 minutes after the take-off, sources said.

According to the IAF, the AN-32 is a twin engine turboprop, medium tactical transport aircraft of Russian origin. It can carry a maximum load of around 6.7 tonne or 39 paratroopers.

The aircraft’s maximum cruise speed is 530 kmph.

“Planes are designed to fly even during an emergency. There will be reaction time to the pilots facing an emergency to send out messages for help or turn towards safety,” an IAF MNNN pilot said.

According to the pilot, an AN-32 aircraft will not drop down like a stone or vanish into thin air in the case of normal emergency, as there will be reaction time. “But in the case of a catastrophic threat, the pilots will not have the necessary reaction time,” he said.

An aircraft will not always be on the radar, he noted.

Coming to the probable cause of its vanishing suddenly, he said: “The possibilities of different catastrophic events happening in the sky cannot be ruled out.”

“For example if an aircraft is caught in a strong thunderstorm, then a plane is as good as a paper caught in the storm. The storm will throw the plane like a stone,” he said.

The other catastrophic events that can happen to a plane were sudden failure of all the engines; devastasting fire; fuel leakage, jamming of flight controls, loss of flight controls due to fire; power and electrical failure and others.

He said in the best case scenario if the AN-32 had come down gradually then it would have been picked up by some radar or the pilots would have the time to react.

Normally a plane is fuelled taking into account the emergency deviations that may arise – the need to go back to the airport from where it took off or to some other nearby airport in case of an emergency, he added.

The incident comes a year after a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft with three crew members on board for a routine surveillance flight went missing.

The search team found its black box nearly a month later. The skeletal remains and personal belongings of the crew members were recovered from the sea bed off the Tamil Nadu coast.