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IAF plane with 29 aboard missing, search on 

Chennai/New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) An AN-32 transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) with 29 people on board went missing over the Bay of Bengal on Friday, Defence Ministry officials said, adding that a full-scale search and rescue mission has been launched.

The aircraft took off from Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai at 8.30 a.m., and was expected to land at Port Blair at 11.30 a.m., officials said.

“The aircraft departed at 8.30 a.m. and was due at Port Blair at 11.30 a.m. The aircraft has not reached. Search operations are on,” a senior IAF official told IANS over telephone from New Delhi.

“The last contact with the aircraft was at 60 nautical mile from the shore. We have deployed our ships, aircraft to search for the plane. The search is happening around 200 nautical miles from the shore,” an Indian Coast Guard official told IANS.

The Russian-made AN-32 aircraft was on a “courier flight” with service personnel on board. It is capable of flying continuously for four hours without refuelling.

A major search and rescue operation has been launched by the Indian Navy and IAF in the Bay of Bengal.

Indian Navy spokesperson D.K. Sharma said a P-8I surveillance aircraft, a Dornier and several ships have been deployed in the search and rescue operation.

Ships deployed for the search include Shivalik-class stealth frigate INS Sahyadri, guided-missile destroyers INS Rajput and Ranvijay, corvettes Kamorta, Kirch, Karmuk, Kora, Kuthar, fleet tankers INS Shakti, and INS Jyoti, amphibious warfare vessel INS Gharial and patrol vessel INS Sukanya, the Indian Navy said.

The incident comes a year after a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft with three crew members on board on a routine surveillance flight went missing. The search team found its black box nearly after a month and later the skeletal remains and personal belongings of the crew members were recovered from the sea bed off Tamil Nadu coast.

The IAF at present has a fleet of over 100 AN-32s in service.

The Russian-origin aircraft is known for its excellent take-off characteristics in hot and high conditions, and is suitable for use as a medium tactical military transport. The twin-engine aircraft is primarily used for transporting cargo, passengers, including skydivers or paratroopers, as well as in fore-fighting.

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