What happened to AN 32?

By S Vishnu Sharmaa Published on Jul 24, 2018 02:25 PM IST

Chennai: The mystery surrounding the AN 32 aircraft of Indian Air Force (IAF) still continues even after two years of its disappearance.

It was on 22 July (Sunday) that Antonov AN 32 twin engine turboprop transport aircraft that took off from the base at Tambaram disappeared while flying over the Bay of Bengal.

There were 29 people on board: six were crew members, 11 IAF personnel, two were Indian Army soldiers, one each from the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard when the plane took off from Tambaram Air Force Station at 8.30 am and was destined to reach Port Blair by 11:45 am which it never did.

The radar contact with the aircraft was lost at 9.12 am that day when the flight was reportedly about 280 kilometres east of Chennai.

Such incidents have happened in the past too, says Lt Col (retd) Palaniraj. Transport aircraft AN 12 BL-534 of IAF also vanished under similar circumstances in 1968 when it was going to Leh from Chandigarh.

The plane got instructions from the ground control to turn back owing to bad weather.

On its way back, the flight suddenly lost contact with ground control. It was in 2003 that a mountaineering team found the remains of a human corpse in Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh which was soon found to be that of Beli Ram, a soldier from the Indian Army. Soon after, a team was dispatched by IAF and Indian Army, he recounts.

While more bodies were retrieved, the cause of the mishap was also found.

Similarly, we may not know now what happened to AN 32, but in future, factors that caused the disappearance will be known. Agreeing with this is a former Air Force personnel based in Chennai.

We do not know what happened to AN 32. It takes about three hours for AN 32 to cover the distance (approximately 1,300 km) connecting the Air Force Station in Tambaram with Port Blair, he points out.

The search that followed the disappearance is also said to be one of the most massive ever launched in the history of IAF.

While the search was launched within an hour of the aircraft's disappearance, Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard, National Institute of the Ocean Technology (NIOT) and private vessels were part of it.

Today, the aircraft and defence personnel are not with us but what remains is a memorial at Air Force Station in Sulur which pays tribute to those who went missing.

Losing personnel in action is a huge loss for us, more so for the families of the martyred soldiers. All these are part of defence life, says Lt Col Palaniraj.

Recollecting his service days in Nagaland, he said, "‘We used to have lunch with officers serving in the infantry unit, many of them never even returned as they turned martyrs."

Prayers used to be conducted in the temples in the army unit for them. We used to arrange for the belongings of the martyred soldiers to be sent to their next of kin.

We take lessons from such happenings and then continue with service to the nation, he added philosophically.

The crew
The missing AN-32 was part of the 33 Sqn and the crew members were Fl Lt Puspendar Badsara, Flag Officer Pankaj Kumar Nandal, Fl Lt Kunal Barpatte, WO Rajeev Ranjan, Cpl Gurdayal Choudary and LAC Kapil Kumar.