In a significant development, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has located the debris of the An-32 aircraft that mysteriously disappeared over the Bay of Bengal on July 22, 2016.
The aircraft, en route to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, had 29 personnel on board, including six crew members, 11 IAF personnel, two Indian Army soldiers, one each from the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard, and eight defence civilians working with the Naval Armament Depot.
The breakthrough comes after seven years of intense search efforts, marking the end of a long-standing mystery surrounding the fate of the missing aircraft. The discovery was announced by the Union Defence Ministry in an official statement on January 12, 2024.
The breakthrough was achieved through the deployment of an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) developed by the National Institute of Ocean Technology. The AUV conducted a deep-sea exploration, searching at a depth of 3,400 meters off the Chennai coast.
Various advanced technologies were employed during the search, including a multi-beam SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging), synthetic aperture SONAR, and high-resolution photography. The search images were meticulously scrutinized, confirming the presence of an aircraft debris at the probable crash site, approximately 310 kilometers from the Chennai coast.
The statement by the Defence Ministry read, “The discovery at the probable crash site, with no other recorded history of any other missing aircraft report in the same area, points to the debris as possibly belonging to the crashed IAF An-32 (K-2743).”
The An-32 aircraft had taken off from the Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai at around 8:30 am on that fateful day in 2016. Its intended destination was Port Blair, where it was scheduled to land at INS Utkrosh, an Indian naval air station. However, radar contact with the aircraft was lost at approximately 9:12 am, around 280 kilometers east of Chennai, triggering a massive search and rescue mission.
The exhaustive efforts undertaken by the armed forces had initially proven unsuccessful, leading to the declaration of the 29 individuals on board as “presumed dead” by the Indian Air Force on September 15, 2016.
The discovery of the debris now brings a semblance of closure to the families of the personnel on board, shedding light on the fate of the ill-fated An-32 aircraft after years of uncertainty and speculation. The IAF and related authorities are expected to conduct further investigations to determine the circumstances surrounding the crash and glean insights into the events leading to the tragic disappearance.