IT has been over 100 days since the AN 32 transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF), carrying 29 persons, went missing over the Bay of Bengal on the morning of July 22. The disappearance of the aircraft, which was on a weekly tour from Chennai to Port Blair, has left behind more questions than answers in the minds of the family members of those onboard the carrier. Parents of Flight Lieutenant Kunal Barpatte, Rajendra and Vidya Barpatte, are two such people whose doubts on the negligence in search operations are yet to get any response from the IAF.
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27-year-old Flt Lt Barpatte, whose family is from Nigdi in Pimpri-Chinchwad, was a navigating officer with the 33 Squadron of the IAF which is a transport squadron under the Southern Air Command at in Tamil Nadu. Following the incident, a massive search operation was conducted on the Bay of Bengal by the Air Force, the Navy and the Coast Guard.
However, addressing the media on Monday, Flt Lt Barpatte’s father said, “We have written to the IAF twice, on September 27 and October 24, seeking information on the missing aircraft, its crew and other passengers. We have still not been told what exactly happened. We have not been told why there were delays in starting the rescue operation, despite the fact that authorities had received clear radar signals. Wasn’t crucial time lost in the delay? Why did the Emergency Locator Beacon fail to work when it was most needed? Why was there no underwater locator even after the upgrade and even when the plane was flown over the sea. We want answers to these questions and IAF has not given any.”
“We fear that the July 22 incident will happen again as there are over 100 AN-32 in operation. The Air Chief said that upgrade of 40 out of 100 was done in Ukraine from 2011 onwards. The remaining aircrafts are being upgraded in India. As the lost aircraft was also upgraded here, we have doubts on others,” added Rajendra, a retired scientist from Central Institute of Road Transport.
His wife, Vidya said, “There has a complete communication failure from the Air Force since the beginning. It was only after a tweet to the defence minister that we were told our son is missing, three days after the incident. Kunal’s Commanding Officer neither called us nor responded to our letters. They say the search is on but on ground there is no clarity. There are serious doubts whether Indian forces have the capability and the equipment to carry out the search in the Bay of Bengal.”
Parents refuse to sign ‘presumed dead’ declaration form
The Barpatte family had refused to sign the letter, sent from the office of Assistant Vice-Chief of the IAF on August 26, which had sought their consent for declaring Flt Lt Kunal ‘presumed dead’.
On September 15, the IAF declared all 29 onboard ‘presumed dead’. Calling it an administrative procedure to clear compensation, IAF said the search will continue. The IAF’s declaration letter read, “The Court of Inquiry, upon very careful scrutiny of the circumstantial evidence available and in light of extensive search and rescue operations carried out, has concluded that it is unlikely that the missing personnel on board the ill-fated aircraft would have survived the accident. It is with a feeling of profound sadness that the Court of Inquiry has recommended that your son/daughter be presumed to have been fatally injured.”
— With ENS inputs