IAF Mountaineers trace crashed An-32's blackbox

Four ace mountaineers from IAF’s adventure cell were recently summoned for a special mission -- to locate and retrieve the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR), of the ill-fated AN-32 that crashed on June 9, near Menchuka in Arunachal Pradesh.

The IAF used the expertise of its adventure-loving air warriors to retrieve the most vital element sought after any air crash -- the FDR, to help provide clues to the air crash. Led by Squadron Leader Namit Rawat, a mountaineer for the last 12 years, together with other experienced mountaineers Warrant Officer Nizammuddin, Junior Warrant Officers Narendra Kumar and NR Choudhry, also a former Everest conqueror, formed the quartet that successfully accomplished the mission on June 16.

“For the first time, adventure was used in an operational field. It just proves that adventure is not only fun but can also be used in other productive fields, especially when life of IAF personnel and assets are involved that will help find facts to help reduce future accidents,” said Squadron Leader Rawat, of their mission.

It may be recalled that the debris of the aircraft was located on June 10, a day after the crash by a team comprising Army, ITBP and Arunachal Pradesh police personnel guided by a local eye-witness in the hilly tracts of Tato, near Menchuka. The team however, lacked knowledge of identifying the FDR/CVR and its retrieval. It was then decided by IAF to send its own mountaineers to accomplish the task.

The team equipped with mountaineering equipment reached Jorhat, the parent base of the ill-fated aircraft, on June 14. After a thorough briefing to help identify the CVR and FDR and a hands-on demonstration on how to extract it from the aircraft body, the team after studying the images of the crash site were flown to Tato, in a Mi-17 helicopter, the following day. The trek to the base camp where the earlier search party was camping began early on the morning of June 16.

“After reaching the end of the road by a vehicle, we trekked down with all our equipment including the special tools given at Jorhat, crossing a river over an existing bridge and climbed up again to reach the campsite by 1330 hrs," said Squadron Leader Rawat. The campsite was at a height of 7,900 feet, about 500 feet below the scattered debris site.

“After pitching our tents we set course immediately for our search even as the weather remained cloudy," he added. The team was also joined by four other IAF members -- two Technical Officers, a Court of Inquiry Pilot member and an Instrument Fitter technician. The team located the tail section of the aircraft amongst the scattered debris hanging precariously over few trees and inverted in an awkward 75-degree angle that could have easily dropped below to the depths, hundreds of feet below without any likely possibility of recovery later. The CVR and FDR are normally housed in the tail section of the aircraft. The extraction was not an easy task and the courage and spirit of adventure was going to be tested beyond the normal call of duty. For the mountaineer air warriors, who in the past have been at the precipice of life and death in many a mountainous sojourn of adventure, approached the task in the same manner as they would normally do in a life-or-death situation during any expedition.

After securing themselves with mountaineering gadgets and ropes ensuring safety, it was left to Choudhry to unscrew the panels painstakingly. The CVR and FDR were finally retrieved by the team after nearly an hour-and-half operation successfully. The team also looked for more panels that could help the accident investigation team. The recorders have since been sent to Jorhat where investigators are now studying it.

Text abridged from IAF statement
Photo: Shiv Aroor

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