“Let’s stay overnight here sir! The weather doesn’t seem conducive and its likely not to improve” said the young Flight lieutenant in consultation with the Met department. But the sortie was pushed through, resulting in a worst ever CFIT incident in IAF history. The IAF Antonov AN32, transportation workhorse of Indian Air Force crashed 10 minutes after takeoff from Mechuka ALG in Arunachal Pradesh in Jun 2009 killing everyone onboard. Exactly Ten years later on 03 Jun 2019, at the same location another IAF Antonov AN 32 crashed 40 kms off Mechuka ALG killing everyone onboard. What seems to be going wrong? Aircraft? Human factor? or the Weather?
To get things into perspective, Mechuka is Advanced landing ground and is located strategically very close to LOAC (Line Of Actual Control). The Town is surrounded by Himalayas as high as 18000 feet. The elevation of the town itself is 6000 feet above sea level.
So from a pilots view, to land at an airbase surrounded by obstructions as high as 18000 feet, there is a set visual (I say strictly visual) pattern to follow. To do this, the procedures are clearly laid out that no flying to be undertaken in Instrument Met Conditions. But Weather is not in our hands and at so many hills proximate to the airfield, Weather changes in matter of minutes. It must be bright and sunny one moment and could pour showers of rain in an another. And the procedure is to go below and between the hills maintaining a specific altitude and climb thereafter. But how would you know where are You? Can the GPS be as accurate as it claims to be? Have we progressed to drop dead accuracy and can we rely on such instruments blindly? These questions need to be answered and introspected upon.
No doubt, IAF Antonov AN 32 is a highly capable aircraft with a little to minute regard to its achievements, thanks to Bay of Bengal Crash in 2016 and recent Mumbai runway overshooting. What generally happens after an airplane goes missing?
Every aircraft has compulsory reporting points at which it has to report its position w r to nearest airbase and height it is maintaining. Failed to report at a compulsory reporting point, Aircraft is considered overdue in next 5 minutes. Air Traffic Control tries to reach the aircraft by calling in multiple frequencies which it would have manned in general. If no joy in next 5 minutes, all the closest civilian and military establishments will be informed and Search and Rescue helicopter takeoff immediately.
Generally, if no MAYDAY or PAN PAN call given by aircraft before it disappeared from the Radar means that it crashed. The chances of survival in a terrain like this is near zero. If not dead during crash, most likely end up giving up to the environment as weather is quite harsh at this places. If a plane goes missing in such terrain, most of the times the crash would be fatal.
Search and Rescue operations:
- Long Range Maritime Reconnaisance aircraft P8i takes off from INS Rajali, Arakonam, Tamil Naduto locate the missing #AN32 between Jorhat & Mechuka.
- The P8i aircraft has a very powerful Synthetic Aperture Radar which shall be utilised during the SAR sweeps to locate the missing.
- Satellites like RISAT and aircraft equipped with multiple sensors have joined the concerted efforts to locate the missing aircraft.
Indians, especially the military planes fly on the most dangerous terrains in the world.
Author : Pilot – Indian Armed Forces