Flights Of Fantasy
[ M Panging Pao ]
On 3 June, an An-32 aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) on a routine flight from Jorhat in Assam to Mechuka in Shi Yomi district, with 13 personnel on board, vanished somewhere between Aalo and Mechuka. A massive search operation, including aircraft, satellites, army, police and local villagers, is ongoing to locate the aircraft’s crash site.
Research reveals that there have been too many aircraft crashes in Arunachal Pradesh. Since 1995, 13 aircraft have crashed in Arunachal, claiming 106 lives. Among the crashed aircraft are 10 helicopters, two An-32s, and one Su-30 aircraft. During the last 10 years there has been an average of one aircraft crash per year, claiming 70 lives, making an average of nine lives lost per year. Another worrying matter is that the majority of these crashes have been in the Tawang area. Many prominent lives have been lost in these crashes, including that of a sitting chief minister, a cabinet minister, a union minister, and senior officials.
With so many crashes occurring in the state, many are asking if Arunachal is the new Bermuda Triangle. It is said that a number of aircraft and ships have disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the Bermuda Triangle. There are many reasons for these aircraft crashes. The foremost reason is bad weather. It is widely known that the weather in the mountainous Arunachal is very fickle and turns into bad weather quickly. Despite the knowledge of the fickle weather conditions, most of the aircraft operating in our area are not configured with the standard equipment required for bad weather flying like the terrain collision avoidance system, the ground proximity warning system, etc.
The other factor causing these accidents is pilot error. Despite the knowledge of bad and fickle weather, pilots take chances to penetrate bad weather in the mountains, leading to a crash. We require very mature pilots operating in Arunachal.
Another aspect is the lack of essential services like fire tenders, and poorly maintained helipads and airports.
There is need for stricter control on aviation in our area, in the form of standard operating procedures (SOP) and laying down weather criteria for flying. For enforcing these SOPs and exercising strict control over aviation, we require professionally qualified aviators to control aviation in our area. Most officials of the civil aviation department have no idea about aviation.
Many days of search are undertaken to locate crash sites. There is a piece of equipment called the emergency locator transmitter (ELT), which is automatically activated in case of a crash. The activated signals are picked up by satellites and the position of the crash site is displayed. The question is, even in the modern era, why were none of these crashed aircraft equipped with ELT?
Civil aviation is poised to increase following the operationalization of the airports in Pasighat, Tezu, Mechuka, Ziro, etc. If these urgent steps are not taken, we may see more aircraft crashes and loss of precious lives. It’s high time we removed this tag of Arunachal being called the new Bermuda Triangle. (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)