Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Friday told Parliament that India has sought help from the U.S. to check if their satellites captured any signals from the missing AN-32 aircraft, while noting there was very little possibility that sabotage played any role.
Clarifiying on the missing aircraft in the Rajya Sabha, the minister said he was ‘disturbed’ at the aircraft's sudden disappearance, which has left even the experts ‘puzzled’.
"I too am disturbed by this sudden disappearance. I spoke with many air chiefs, other senior air force personnel, they are also puzzled by the sudden disappearance," he said.
Assuring the house that the aircraft had ‘adequate lifetime’ left, Parrikar added that maximum efforts are being made to reduce accidents and that any aircraft unfit for flying was not being flown.
He said that the aircraft "was almost at the end of the range of the passive radar. In effect, in another 10 minutes, it would have crossed the limit of the passive radar. There is an area around 150-200 nautical miles where there is no radar coverage either from Chennai or Port Blair."
He also said that the aircraft had undergone its first overhaul, and had already flown for 179 hours after that. The pilot had flown for over 500 hours on the route.
"So it is not that something new had happened during the flight," he said.
"Only thing which was recorded was because of a cumulonimbus cloud which normally no aviator will like to enter into because it is a very charged and heavy cloud... they (pilots) said we are deviating to the right," Parrikar shared, adding that this happened 7-8 minutes before the plane went off radar.
"At the time of coming down, it actually tilted to the left and descended very fast from 23,000 feet in few seconds. Then it disappeared from the radar.
"Two things happened, it was at the age of radar signal where you don't get very active radar signal, you just keep track of it. There is no SOS, no transmission at any frequency, it just disappeared... That is the worrying part," he said.
He also said that no signal from the emergency beacon locator has been tracked, but added that that it was "difficult that it will be actually activated" if the aircraft dives inside water.
"In the earlier Coast Guard case (Dornier crash) also, it had not activated," he said.
Parrikar also said there was very little chance of a sabotage.
"I can't speculate... we are searching for it but I can say only this much, though we are checking all angles, the possibility of a sabotage is comparatively very less.
"They have a standard operating procedure, all passengers were from the defence forces."
Elaborating on the search operations, he said the United States has been contacted for any information from their satellites.
"We did not get even a single signal. We have now contacted U.S. to see if their satellites have picked signals," he said, but added that a satellite may not have picked signals because of the thick cloud cover, and that it also depended on whether a satellite was crossing the area at the time.
He added that so far, 505 hours of air sorties have been undertaken and 23 different items were noticed.
Of the 23 inputs, there were 17 visual sightings and six transmissions.
Indian survey ships are searching the seabed, and submarine Sindhudhwaj, which had finally located the crashed Dornier, is carrying out an underwater search.
"Round the clock air surveillance is being maintained. There are 10 Navy ships in the area. The depth of water is 3,300 to 4,000 meters. Special vessels have also been summoned," he said.
The minister added that he was personally monitoring the whole operation, and he was getting updates every few hours.