- Associated Press - Saturday, July 23, 2016

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 and difficult search operation for the plane, which was making a routine courier flight when it disappeared.

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

A Defense Ministry statement said that very choppy seas along with heavy monsoon cloud cover were making the search operation difficult. 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. The air force and the coast guard are also part of the operation, which involves searching a wide swath of the Bay of Bengal.

The passengers on board the plane included six crew members along with 11 air force personnel, two from the army and one each from the navy and the coast guard. Eight civilians working for the navy were also aboard the aircraft.

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