Pune, 12th January 2024: On 22 July 2016, an Indian Air Force (IAF) An-32 aircraft (registration K-2743) went missing during a mission over the Bay of Bengal, carrying 29 personnel including Flt Lt Kunal Barpatte (navigator), a resident of Nigdi, Pimpri Chinchwad. Despite extensive Search and Rescue efforts involving aircraft and ships, no trace of the missing personnel or aircraft debris was located.
In a recent development, the National Institute of Ocean Technology, operating under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, deployed an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) equipped for deep-sea exploration. The AUV conducted a meticulous search at the last known location of the missing An-32, situated at a depth of 3400 meters. Utilizing advanced technology, including a multi-beam SONAR, synthetic aperture SONAR, and high-resolution photography, the search aimed to uncover the mysteries hidden in the depths.
The analysis of the search images yielded a significant discovery—the presence of aircraft debris on the sea bed, approximately 140 nautical miles (310 km) from the Chennai coast. The scrutinized images unmistakably matched the characteristics of an An-32 aircraft. Given that no other recorded history of missing aircraft in the area exists, the debris is believed to be associated with the crashed IAF An-32 (K-2743), informed the Ministry of Defence today through a press release.
This revelation brings a degree of closure to the prolonged search efforts and provides crucial information about the fate of the missing An-32 and its occupants. The Indian Air Force and relevant authorities will likely proceed with further investigations to ascertain the circumstances leading to the crash and gain a comprehensive understanding of the incident.
Flt Lt Kunal was the only child of his parents. He studied B Sc (Electronics) at Fergusson College, Pune, and after that joined the IAF. He passed out of IAF Academy near Hyderabad in 2008. He was earlier posted in Assam, before moving to the Sulur Air Force base near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu two years before the incident.
Kunal’s father Rajendra Barpatte is a retired scientist from the Pune-based Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT).