As Hunt For An-32 Wreckage Stretches, Did Emergency Locator Beacon Not Work?

An Indian Air Force Antonov An-32 tactical transport aircraft is believed to have crashed today in the eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. The aircraft had taken off from the Jorhat air force base about 200 km away from its destination, the Mechuka advanced landing ground on the border with Tibet. All 13 personnel on board — 6 officers and 7 enlisted men — were feared killed in the crash. Information provided by the IAF suggests the aircraft disappeared from radar about 25 minutes after take-off from Jorhat, triggering an extended search operation using fighters, helicopters and drones. The wreckage was finally spotted about 40 km from its destination.

A Court of Inquiry will be ordered into the tragedy involving the aircraft from the IAF’s 43 Squadron ‘Ibexes’ that functions under the Maintenance Command from Jorhat, Assam. Flights under the Eastern Air Command to advanced landing grounds are common, with several flying every week from to Mechuka, Walong, Vijaynagar and Ziro among others.

The An-32 that is believed to have crashed today was headed to Mechuka, a base where the IAF has operated its largest jet — the Boeing C-17.

The hunt for the wreckage, both by air and by ground teams, has proven eerily elusive so far. Livefist can confirm that the missing An-32 had an emergency locator beacon, but search teams have received no signal from the wreckage, indicating that it has not activated in the accident. This could be a very large part of the crash investigation when it begins.

Today’s tragedy comes almost exactly a decade after an identical number of personnel perished in an An-32 in roughly the same area. The crash today also comes as a reminder of an unresolved 2016 incident, in which an IAF An-32 went missing over the Bay of Bengal while on a flight from Chennai to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The wreckage was never found. As Livefist reported at the time, in a deep irony, the IAF was in the process of testing gear that could have helped locate the aircraft when it went down.

The An-32, to be sure, has proven to be a reliable workhorse of an aircraft that its crews love to fly. With several An-32s upgraded, and many more in the process of being upgraded, there is nothing specifically wrong with the type — indeed they enjoy a robust safety record in Indian service. Today’s crash however throws a telling glare on the Indian Air Force’s so-far stalled efforts to procure at least 56 Airbus C295 aircraft to replace HS748 Avro aircraft in IAF service. Avros, like the An-32 function as troop transports, though the latter are far more versatile and capable of much more varied cargo owing to presence of rear ramp. The Airbus aircraft selected by the Indian government to replace the Avro — and to be built for most part through a joint venture with Tata in India — would be similar to the An-32, but a leap forward in terms of electronics, cockpit systems and sensors.

In November last year, Livefist reported that the stalled Avro replacement program was tentatively moving forward again. With a new government now in play, the Indian Air Force will be hoping it comes unstuck and fast.

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