Young Air Force officer from Pune among 29 missing persons with IAF AN 32 aircraft

Kunal Barpatte

Flt Lt Kunal Barpatte missing

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Pune: A young Indian Air Force (IAF) officer from Pune is among the 29 missing military personnel and civilians after IAF’s Antonov-32 transport aircraft disappeared over the Bay of Bengal on Friday when it was en route to Port Blair from Chennai.

Flight Lieutenant Kunal Barpatte, a resident of Nigdi, located on the old Mumbai-Pune Highway on the outskirt of Pimpri-Chinchwad, was also onboard the aircraft.

He is the only child of his parents whose condition has deteriorated since they heard the news yesterday.

Barpatte 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 ago.

Kunal’s father Rajendra Barpatte is a retired scientist from the Pune-based Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT).

He has been surfing internet to get latest updates about the search and rescue operations.

Kunal’s mother was continuously watching news channels and looking at their mobile phone for any information about their son.

Kunal’s familymembers were upset as nobody from the IAF had contacted them.

Barpatte’s uncle Dinesh Patil lashed out at defence minister Manohar Parrikar on Twitter when Parrikar tweeted “Efforts on to trace IAF AN 32 aircraft and our Service personnel”

Patil tweeted, “sister’s son fly lft Kunal Barpatte was on this plane. Not a single phone received from Indian air force”

He also shared his mobile phone number. Within an hour he was flooded with over 100 calls from the IAF.

After reading about the aircraft’s history of developing snags recently, Barpatte’s friends and neighbors questioned whether politicians will use such aircrafts?

“I read in newspaper that the AN-32 aircraft was repaired thrice after it developed snags this month. How can defence forces personnel can be allowed to use such old aircraft when you know that it has history of developing snags”, asked a neighbor of the family, who did not wished to be named.

Another person who said he was friend of Barpatte asked if the politicians will such aircraft for their travel.

Out of 29 people who were on-board six were crew members along with eleven IAF personnel, two from Indian Army and one person from Indian Coast Guard. Eight civilians working with Indian Navy along with one sailor from Indian Navy was also travelling in the aircraft.

Meanwhile even after 36 hours of their disappearance, there is no trace either of the aircraft or the personnel who were travelling on the fateful aircraft.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar along with IAF chief Arup Saha and Navy officer during search and rescue operation on Sunday.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar along with IAF chief Arup Saha and Navy officer during search and rescue operation on Sunday.

The IAF, Indian Navy and the Coast Guard has thrown their full might in the search and rescue (SAR) operation.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, accompanied by IAF  Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, and Vice Admiral HCS Bisht, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, undertook a sortie on Sunday from Naval Air Station Rajali at Arakkonam onboard an Indian Naval P-8I Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft for reviewing the SAR operations for the missing AN-32 aircraft of the IAF.

During the sortie that lasted nearly two hours, Parrikar witnessed coordinated efforts involving ships and aircraft, including helicopter operations from the Navy’s LPD INS Jalashwa.

He directed that maximum resources be pressed into service so as to undertake effective SAR. He was briefed about the challenges of undertaking SAR under monsoon conditions with heavy rain, cloud cover, rough sea condition and most importantly depths of over 3500 metres in the area. He was also briefed about future plans involving additional ships and a submarine that were heading for the area to join in the SAR operations.

According to officials, the state of the sea is 3 to 4 and is very choppy with thick monsoon clouds in the area making the search effort quite challenging. Parrikar has directed that the operations be continued unhindered till further orders.

The minister was also told that constant liaison was being maintained with all families, and that all possible help was being rendered to them.

It may be recalled, that on 22 July (Saturday) an An-32 aircraft belonging to 33 Squadron of IAF which is located at Sulur, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu was on a scheduled courier sortie from Tambaram (Chennai) to Port Blair, the capital of Andadaman & Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. The aircraft departed Tambaram at 8.30 am with six crew members and 23 passengers.

The aircraft was scheduled to arrive at Port Blair at 11.45 am. The aircraft however did not make any contact with Air Traffic Control of Port Blair and an overdue action was initiated. The last Radar contact marked by Chennai Air Traffic Radar was East of Chennai at 151 nautical miles. The aircraft was flying at 23000 ft.

“As of now a massive search operation is in progress braving prevalent monsoon weather conditions and poor visibility wherein IAF, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard have pooled in all available resources to look for any possible sign of the aircraft in this vast swath of Bay of Bengal between Chennai and Port Blair”, Ministry of Defence said in a press release.

IAF has deployed two C-130 aircraft equipped with Electro-optical and Infra-Red sensors. Indian Navy P8i aircraft equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar along with Dorniers are also taking part in this operation. Indian Navy has deployed 13 ships in the search area and is being assisted by six ships of Indian Coast Guard and merchant vessels in the area. Indian Navy has also deployed one submarine for the task. The Maritime Rescue and Coordination Center at Chennai has been coordinating round the clock surveillance towards search effort along with Southern Air Command of IAF, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard.