The search covers over 2,50,000 sq.km area in Andaman sea, Bay of Bengal

On a day when the hijack theory on the mysterious disappearance of Beijing-bound Malaysian flight MH370 with 239 passengers on board gained considerable traction, Indian forces intensified the search of the seas abutting the east coast and the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago for wreckage of the jet, but without any result.

In the wake of a fresh request from Malaysia, India on Saturday extended its search using ships and recce aircraft to a wide area over central and east Bay of Bengal. “The Navy has so far coordinated search over an area spanning more than 2,50,000 sq km in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal and search operations are expected to continue,” said a Navy spokesperson.

The third day of Indian search saw the Navy press into service two of its newly-acquired Boeing P8-I long-range maritime patrol aircraft and an Air Force C-130 J Super Hercules tactical airlifter to scour the seas. Dornier DO-228 recce aircraft operated by the Navy and the Coast Guard also flew sorties through the day.

Indian naval ships Kesari and Saryu remained alongside a multinational search flotilla in the Andaman Sea. Coast Guard vessels Kanaklata Barua and Bhikaji Cama searched the Andaman Sea while CGS Sagar combed the Strait of Malacca. More ships and aircraft were on standby for augmenting the operation, said the spokesperson.

The Indian Navy maintained continuous liaison with the Operations Centres of the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Royal Malaysian Air Force so as to coordinate the ongoing search effort involving over 14 countries, 45 ships and 60 aircraft, he said.

Erratic inputs

The former Navy Chief, Admiral (retd.) Arun Prakash, criticised the effort as ‘sheer waste’ of resources. “Are the Malaysians covering up something or telling lies?” he asked, referring to the vastly varying and contradicting accounts of the missing flight given by the Malaysian government over the seven days of its loss. “First they said its last contact point was somewhere over the South China Sea. Then they said it took a south-westerly course, only to change it later to westerly course and now, a north-westerly course towards Central Asia. The inputs have been glaringly erratic. No search is worth anything if it is conducted on the basis of grossly-erring information. We should’ve got the info corroborated before embarking on the search,” he told The Hindu.

“While low-flying is generally done to evade detection by radars, it makes no sense in this case as fall in altitude is at the cost of higher rate of fuel consumption.” This would obviously have a bearing on the endurance of the aircraft, Mr. Prakash, an ace pilot, pointed out denouncing theories of its course to Central Asia. “They needn’t have come all the way down to the Indian Ocean to commit suicide.”

Lieutenant-General (retd.) N.C. Marwah, former commander-in-chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Command which is controlling the Indian forces taking part in the search operation, told The Hindu that the archipelago, located strategically astride key maritime chokepoints, badly needed more air defence radars.

Given the possibility of the missing plane giving radars in the region the slip, he said the island group at the moment only had three air defence radars operated by the Navy and the Air Force at Port Blair, Car Nicobar and Campbell Bay, each with a range of up to 150 km. Even these would not be functional round-the-clock owing to maintenance requirements.

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