The Indian Air Force (IAF) said Thursday it was still searching for the pilot and the wreckage of a MiG-29 jet that crashed in the inhospitable Himalayan terrain of Lahaul Valley in Himachal Pradesh two days ago.
However, the search operation was abandoned in the valley for Thursday due to mild snow in higher reaches. Trekkers of the Indian Army would start combing as the aerial survey resumes Friday, officials said.
"The search operation would continue till the wreckage is found. We have deployed a Dornier, an AN-32, SU-30 and Chetak and Cheetah helicopters," Squadron Leader Priya Joshi, the spokesperson for the IAF's Western Air Command, told IANS over phone from New Delhi.
The pilot, who had taken off from Adampur near Jalandhar in Punjab Tuesday night, was on night flying training mission, she said.
The aircraft crashed in the mountains of Lahaul and Spiti district, adjoining the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir.
"Four choppers were pressed into service in Bharmour (Chamba district) and Chokhang mountains (Lahaul Valley) Thursday morning. But later, the operation was stopped due to snow in the high hills," said Lahaul and Spiti Deputy Commissioner Rajeev Shankar.
He said the Indian Army trekkers from Leh would start a combing operation in the Lahaul Valley Friday.
The villagers of Chokhang, some 40 km from Keylong town in Lahaul and Spiti district, reported that they saw a fireball in the sky and heard a loud boom Tuesday night after the crash.
The IAF choppers were also deployed on the high passes between the Kugti wildlife sanctuary and the Chobia Pass, located at an altitude of 5,000 metres above sea level, in Chamba district.
"An IAF chopper from the Dalhousie airbase was pressed into service in Bharmour area this (Thursday) morning. Two recces were conducted Wednesday but no wreckage has been traced so far," Chamba Additional District Magistrate Neeraj Kumar said.
The IAF had ruled out the possibility of locating the wreckage in the Bharmour area, Kumar said, adding "its search operation would now be only in the Lahaul Valley".
The entire mountain range in the valley is treacherous, and the rocks cliffs are quite steep and gorges are narrow.
An IAF AN-12 aircraft with 102 defence personnel on board, including six crew members, crashed on the 17,400-feet-high Dakka glacier in the Chandrebhaga ranges in Lahaul and Spiti Feb 7, 1968. Only four bodies were recovered.