New Delhi: There are "unlikely" to be any survivors on board the AN-32 aircraft that went missing over the Bay of Bengal on 22 July, the government said in Lok Sabha on Friday. This is perhaps the first categorical statement by the government on the fate of the 29 people on board the IAF workhorse.
Minister of State for Defence Subhash Ramrao Bhamre said during Question Hour that it is "unlikely" that there are any survivors after so many days of the incident. He was responding to a question by Deputy Speaker M Thambi Durai, also an AIADMK member, who insisted that the search for the missing transport aircraft will not stop till its wreckage is found.
The Minister said a variety of aircraft, including helicopters of the air force and coast guard, have been pressed into service to locate the plane. Merchant vessels and the fishermen community have also been requested to look out for debris.
30 floating objects were located but no "concrete" evidence has yet been found.
Bhambre said the complete wreckage of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370, which had disappeared on March 8, 2014, has not been found so far, while the wreckage of a French airliner was found over a year after it had gone missing, he said explaining the difficulties in finding the missing planes.
The wreckage and remains of the crew of a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft was also found after several days, he said. He said on the fateful day, the radars tracking the aircraft had found a "thunder cloud bad patch" but the plane was equipped with the device to avoid such a disturbance.
The ill-fated AN-32 had taken off on a routine courier flight to Port Blair from Tambaram air base near Chennai on 22 July at 8.30 am with six crew and 23 personnel, but never arrived at the destination. It was last seen on the radars at 9 am.
Responding to a supplementary, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said in the last 24 months, no life has been lost in an air crash involving air force planes, barring the case of the AN-32 incident. He clarified that the Dornier aircraft which went down last year belonged to the Coast Guard.
In his written reply, Parrikar said the air force had lost 7 aircraft in crashes in 2013-14 and 10 in 2014-15. In 2015-16, the number was six and upto August 9, 4 planes have crashed.
"Upgradation, modernisation and replacement of military aircraft depend upon the national security/threat perception, strategic objectives and operational requirements of the defence forces and is reviewed by the government from time to time. This is a continuous process," he said.
Former Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi (TMC) wanted to ask a supplementary on the issue, but was apparently not allowed by the Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. "You never allow me to
ask...what is the point sitting in the House," he complained.