India has launched a massive search and rescue operation for an Indian air force (IAF) plane that went missing with 29 people on board over the Bay of Bengal.
With concern mounting hours after its disappearance, five surveillance aircraft and 13 navy and coastguard ships began searching on Friday for the plane, which vanished shortly after takeoff from the southern city of Chennai.
The aircraft was on its way to Port Blair, the capital of the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands.
The Russian-built Antonov AN-32 military transport plane was carrying service personnel and six crew members as it undertook a routine courier service to the Indian islands.
The last contact was made about 15 minutes after takeoff from Tambaram air force station on the outskirts of Chennai, an IAF spokesman said.
AN-32s are the IAF’s workhorse aircraft and are capable of flying for up to four hours without refuelling.
An IAF source said radar data from the missing aircraft showed it making a sharp left turn before rapidly losing altitude.
The IAF, which relies heavily on Russian-made equipment and has about 100 AN-32s in its fleet, has a poor safety record.
In one of the worst disasters involving an AN-32 in India, 20 people on board died and three civilians were burned to death when a plane crashed near a Delhi airport in 1999.
In 2013, all 20 people on board a military helicopter were killed when it crashed in northern India.