The Indian Air Force on Wednesday said efforts to locate a missing AN-32 aircraft have been intensified and expanded “despite challenges posed by vegetation, inhospitable terrain and poor weather”. The search operation was adversely affected by bad weather during the day but efforts to locate the missing plane would continue through the night, the Air Force added.

The transporter aircraft, with 13 people on board, went missing 33 minutes after taking off from Jorhat in Assam on Monday. It was heading to Menchuka in Arunachal Pradesh, near the China border. On Tuesday, the Navy and the Indian Space Research Organisation joined the search. While the Navy deployed a long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the space agency pressed into service its RISAT series of radar-imaging satellites.

Unidentified Air Force personnel told PTI that additional assets, including two Sukhoi-30 aircraft were deployed on Wednesday. Two C-130 jets, an AN-32 aircraft, one Mi-17 fighter jet and an Army helicopter have already been deployed. The Navy’s P-8I aircraft has electro-optical and infra-red sensors but the thick vegetation in the area is hindering the search operation. The Sukhoi-30 and C-130J aircraft will carry out night missions.

The Congress, meanwhile, expressed concern about the safety and well-being of the Air Force personnel who were on board the aircraft, and asked why the government had not allocated resources to replace the obsolete AN-32 fleet.

Party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala asked the government why the aircraft was flying over a treacherous terrain, claiming there were better aircraft to fly on that route. “Why has the government not allocated sufficient defence budget to replace the AN-32 fleet?” he asked.

He said the government and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh must answer why, despite a similar accident involving an AN-32 jet in 2016, “mitigating measures” were not taken.

In 2016, an Indian Air Force AN-32 plane had disappeared while flying over the Bay of Bengal after taking off from Chennai for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The aircraft was never found, and all 29 people on board were presumed dead.

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