President Pranab Mukherjee has written to Malaysian King Abdul Halim Mu’adzam offering assistance in locating the missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370.
Mukherjee conveyed India’s “deep concern and sympathy to the government of Malaysia and to the families of those who were aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight”. He noted that five Indian passengers were also on the jetliner. “In addition to the many Malaysians and other nationalities, five Indian nationals were also on board the flight.”
MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said Indian officials were working out the modalities of assistance sought by the Malaysian government. “The Indian High Commission is also assisting the Indian families who have reached Kuala Lumpur,” he said. Government sources in Delhi said it has initiated the process of appointing designated persons for sharing of information based on searches and for receiving inputs from the Malaysian authorities, who had on Wednesday evening given the coordinates for searches in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.
“The search operations will begin on Thursday and it would be done by both air and sea reconnaissance assets,” they said.
There were five Indian nationals among the 239 persons on board the ill-fated airliner, including a family of three from Mumbai, who were travelling to visit their eldest son in Beijing. They are identified as Vinod Kolekar (59), mother Chetana (55) and their younger son Swanand (23). Fifty-one-year-old Chandrika Sharma from Chennai had been travelling to Mongolia for a conference, while 44-year-old Kranti Pralhad Sirsath was planning to join her husband posted with a company in Pyongyang.
The Air Force and Navy had kept their reconnaissance aircraft, helicopters and warships on stand-by, awaiting a specific request for assistance in the search and that input from the Malaysian authorities had been received on Wednesday, Defence Ministry sources said.
“We had kept our aircraft, helicopters and warships on standby. As we have got a green signal on what is to be done, we will start the search operations at the earliest,” the sources said. The search assets of the IAF and the Navy are likely to be aircraft, helicopters and warships deployed close to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where India has a major tri-service operational formation.
While the IAF has its Dornier aircraft and Mi-17 choppers deployed on the islands, the Navy has several of its warships based there. Besides, the Navy has long-range reconnaissance aircraft such as the American Boeing P-8I and Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-142 based at Arakkonam near Chennai that could do the distance up to the Malacca Strait for a search mission.
The Beijing-bound MH370 had gone off the radar over the South China Sea, an hour after its take off from Kuala Lumpur. Investigators are probing the disappearance of the aircraft from all angles, including the possibility of a crash, hijack or terrorism.
Malaysian authorities have put the plane’s last known point of contact with the air traffic control off eastern Malaysia, roughly midway between Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam.