Apprehensions grew over the fate of the missing IAF transport aircraft with 29 people on board as search teams were yet to find any trace of the AN 32 plane while efforts were intensified on Saturday over the Bay of Bengal where inclement weather appeared to be a hurdle.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who arrived here on Saturday morning to take stock of the situation, undertook a two-hour aerial survey with as many as 18 navy and coast guard ships including a submarine, and eight aircraft like P 81, C 130 and Dorniers pressed into search operations.
The Russian-made workhorse of the IAF went missing on Friday soon after taking off from Tambaram air base for Port Blair, a distance of 1,400 km. It made the last radio contact at 0846 hours, 16 minutes after take off.
Worries mounted for the authorities as time was running out and no positive signals emerged from the operations which were launched soon after the news of the missing aircraft trickled in on Friday morning.
Personally monitoring the operation, Parrikar reviewed the utilisation of assets and resources to find the plane even as he instructed that more resources could be diverted for the purpose if necessary, defence sources said.
He was apprised of the difficult conditions under which operations were being carried out during the last 24 hours.
The sea is very rough and there is thick cloud cover in the area, sources said, adding he has directed all Commanders to be in touch with families and provide them information that may be required, they said.
Parrikar was briefed by the Air Force and the Navy in Tambaram, near here. He then boarded a P-81 aircraft from Arakkonam Naval base to monitor search and rescue operations being conducted in the Bay of Bengal. The minister was briefed by Air Force and Naval personnel on board the P-81 as well.
He later left for Arakkonam from where he was flown to the area where the SAR was being undertaken jointly by the IAF, Navy and Coast Guard.
The Defence Minister was accompanied by senior IAF officials including Chief of Air Staff Arup Raha, before being briefed at the Naval Air station at Arakkonam, located around 50 km from Chennai.
"Hon'ble RM (Raksha Mantri) @manoharparrikar being explained about the ops (operations) whilst in search area on P81," a Defence Ministry spokesperson said on twitter.
The 29 people on board the Air Force's workhorse for a long period included six crew members, two of them pilots and one navigator.
Besides, there were 11 personnel from the IAF including a lady officer, two from the Army, one from the Coast Guard and 9 from the navy which included some from its armament depot.