On 22 July 2016, AN-32 aircraft belonging to 33 Squadron was tasked to carry men and material from Chennai to the Air Force station at Port Blair. The aircraft, an upgraded AN-32 took off from Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai at 8.30 am, and was expected to land at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at 11.30 am. Flying Officer Pankaj Nandal was one of the pilots of the aircraft. The aircraft had 29 people on board including six crew members besides the material load.
However, the aircraft lost contact with the ground radar when it was 151 nautical miles east of Chennai. The aircraft had taken a left turn with rapid loss of height from 23,000 feet. The disappearance of the Russian-made AN-32 twin engine turboprop transport aircraft kicked off India’s biggest search operation yet for a missing plane on the sea.
Despite massive search operation by the Navy, Indian Air Force, and Coast Guard the aircraft and the passengers on board could not be traced. Indian Navy and Coast Guard ships were deployed for scanning the surface of the sea as part of the search operations after the aircraft went off radar. Also, data from Indian satellites was scanned to locate the missing aircraft. The aircraft was not fitted with an underwater locator beacon, which made the search operations even more difficult.
Consequently in September, all the 29 people on board the AN-32 plane were declared “presumed dead”. Flying Officer Pankaj Nandal made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty by laying down his life in the service of the nation.
Flying Officer Pankaj Nandal is survived by his father, Krishna Nandal mother, Usha Devi and younger brother, Vipul.