Indian defense chief oversees search for air force plane

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s defense minister was overseeing an aerial search of the Bay of Bengal on Saturday for an air force transport plane that disappeared with 29 people aboard.

The aircraft went missing Friday en route from the southern city of Chennai to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The flight, covering 1,375 kilometers (854 miles), was supposed to last three hours. The Russian-made AN-32 could go for four hours without refueling, Defense Ministry spokesman Nitin Wakankar said.

The ministry said in a tweet that Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar was overseeing the massive search operation for the plane, which was making a routine courier flight and was carrying service personnel along with the crew.

Air force spokesman Anupam Banerjee said the last communication from the plane was about 15 minutes after takeoff.

It wasn’t known if the weather was bad during the flight, though monsoon season brings heavy winds and storms that can cause turbulence and flight delays around South and Southeast Asia.

Twelve naval ships were diverted from their missions to be part of the search operation, the Defense Ministry said. A submarine was also diverted to the area to help locate transmissions from the emergency locator beacon onboard the plane.