A massive search operation has been launched by the IAF to search for the missing Mig-29 aircraft and its pilot Sqn Ldr DS Tomar that crashed on the night of 18 Oct 11 in the mountainous area of Lahaul Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. Till date 132 sorties have been flown towards search and rescue (SAR) operations. Considering the remote, high altitude treacherous snow clad mountainous region at elevations extending from 15000 ft to 20000 ft above mean sea level and the fact that no radio call was received from the pilot of the missing aircraft has made the search effort very demanding. All available data including that from other aircraft flying in the area, inputs from the formation leader, data on his aircraft as well as reports from civil police received through villagers in the area were collated to ascertain the probable crash site.
While analysing the data, a coherent plan for mounting SAR operations was conceptualised and the search aircraft were airborne on the first light on 19 Oct. Within first 24 hours a total of 22 sorties were mounted that flew over 41 hours. These included SU-30, Jaguar, RPA, Cheetah, Cheetal and An-32 aircraft which searched the probable areas by high tech electro optical eqpt and visual means covering wide extensive search for wreckage and deep intensive search to locate the missing pilot. The search patterns were planned for each type of sensor employed depending on the height and time of the day. The data collected from these are being analysed by specialist in imagery interpretation. Team of these specialists are constantly at work since the occurrence on 18 Oct. The National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) has been approached to make available data of the probable search area that may have been covered by any of the satellites. This effort was important as no radio call was received from the crashed aircraft and early sighting of the missing pilot and the ac wreckage was important.
On subsequent days similar search effort by air were launched maintaining the tempo and refining the search based on inputs received from data collected the previous day. The effort was augmented by the ground search parties of air warriors and Indian Army. The aircraft involved in search are being launched from Leh, Udhampur, Jammu, Bareilly etc where the specialised equipment is located to cover the large area of search in the mountains.
Alongside search by air, ground parties were airlifted with specially trained and acclimatised troops. Gp Capt PK Sharma VM was assigned the Task Force Commander for the search effort ex 'Kelylong' in 'Lahaul' area. 'Thirot' village Sarpanch with help of villagers brought a few wreckage components which were identified to be that of MiG-29 aircraft. However the entire area came under fresh snow following a spell of bad weather.
Even though the combat Exercise has got over, the HQ WAC has remained focused to the task of SAR which is being undertaken on a war footing. The Ladakh Scouts and other elements of Indian Army, the air warriors of IAF mountaineering team are being utilised for the ground search effort. IAF has also employed local mountaineers who are best suited for undertaking search operations in the snowbound, high altitude regions for extended period.
The aviation accident experts who have flown over the area are of the opinion that the ground party is likely to be most effective since the aircraft may have disintegrated after the impact and the debris is spread across the slopes on either side of the ridge line. Nothing can be said with certainty at this stage until the crash site is conclusively identified and flight data recorder (black box) is recovered and analysed.
Since the time of the occurrence, IAF authorities are in constant touch with the family of the missing pilot providing them inputs on the progress of the search and rescue effort.