A military aircraft belonging to the Myanmar Army disappeared Wednesday afternoon over Andaman Sea. Different reports indicate that there were anywhere from 100 to 120 military personnel, family members, and flight crew aboard when it went missing. One source within the airport that has requested anonymity claims the aircraft left with 105 passengers and 11 crew members.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that as many as a dozen children were among the passengers on the flight, believed to be family members of military personnel that were also on board.
“We don’t know what exactly happened to this plane after the loss of contact,” said Kyaw Kyaw Htey, a civil aviation official at Myeik airport.
Regional media has indicated that debris has been spotted in the Andaman Sea between southern city of Myeik and its destination in Yangon, indicating that the aircraft likely went down soon after losing contact with air traffic control towers at about 1:35PM local time. The plane was flying at an altitude of approximately 18,000 feet when it lost contact with radio operators. Search and rescue efforts are underway, but no survivors have been reported thus far.
“Now they have found pieces of the damaged plane in the sea 136 miles (218 km) away from Dawei city,” said Naing Lin Zaw, a tourism official in Myeik city. He then added that the Navy is continuing its search.
Although it is monsoon season in Myanmar, Kyaw Kyaw Htey said the weather had been “normal” with good visibility when the plane took off. Six Myanmar Navy ships and three military plans have begun searching the area for any signs of survivors or evidence to suggest the cause of what would appear to be a crash.
The Chinese-made Y-8-200F transport plane is a medium size, medium range aircraft originally designed and manufactured by China’s Shaanxi Aircraft Company to specifically suit the needs of China’s People’s Liberation Army. It is one of the largest transport aircraft in service by the Chinese and Myanmar militaries. It is designed to take off and land on difficult terrain and was built specifically to operate during weather conditions that would leave some aircraft grounded.
“We think it was a technical failure. Weather is fine there,” an airport source told AFP, asking not to be named.
According to the local military, the aircraft was purchased from China in 2016 and has had a total of 809 flying hours logged. It was reportedly carrying over two tons of supplies as well as the passengers.
Myanmar was subject to economic sanctions from Western Powers until very recently, which some believe caused the country’s military to tighten its belt in terms of routine maintenance on its aircraft.
“Myanmar air force has very bad safety performance,” a former executive at the aviation ministry said. He then added that many of the aircraft in Myanmar’s fleet were “old and decrepit.”
In 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted the remaining sanctions levied on the Southeast Asian nation after nearly two decades, which were put in place in 1997 in order to isolate the military junta that ruled the country at the time. Since then, the military has retained a great deal of power, but the government has made significant progress in appointing civilian leadership.
“While Burma faces significant challenges, including the consolidation of its democracy, the United States can, and intends to, use other means to support the government and the people of Burma in their efforts to address these challenges.” Obama said at the time.
Image courtesy of Reuters