Service No : 31493 F(N)

Place of birth : Pune Dist (MH)

Last Rank : Flight Lieutenant

Unit : 33 Sqn AF

Arm/Regt : Indian Air Force

Martyrdom : July 22, 2016

Flt Lt Kunal Barpatte

Flight Lieutenant Kunal Barpatte hailed from Nigadi village in Pimpri-Chinchwad tehsil of Pune district in Maharashtra. Son of Shri Rajendra Barpatte and Smt Vidya Barpatte, Flt Lt Barpatte did his B.Sc in Electronics from Fergusson College at Pune. As a child, Flt Lt Barpatte was fascinated by the Air Force and always wanted to be an Air Warrior. In pursuit of his dream, he cleared the Combined Defence Services Exam and went to the Air Force Academy (AFA) Dindigul, Hyderabad for his training. He was selected in the flying branch of the IAF and was trained as a Navigator as part of the 111th NAV Course. He passed out from AFA and was commissioned as a Flying Officer on 18 Dec 2010. After completing his training, he got posted to an operational squadron at Air Force Base Jorhat in Assam and started honing his flying skills further to get expertise in various air operations. Later he got posted to an AN-32 Squadron based at Sullur in Tamil Nadu. 


Air Transport Operation: 22 July 2016


During July 2016, Flt Lt Kunal Barpatte was serving with 33 Sqn based at Sulur (Coimbatore) in Tamil Nadu. No. 33 Squadron was initially formed as a unit on 09 Jan 1963 at 19 Wing Air Force at Guwahati (with two Caribou aircraft) with Wing Commander John Charles Plomer as the first 'Commanding Officer'. Subsequently, it was re-designated as a squadron in Sep 1963 with 16 Caribou aircraft.  After more than twenty-seven years of dedicated service under the Eastern Air Command, 33 Squadron left the hills and valleys of the East and moved to Sulur in Jun 1991. In Nov 1986, the An-32 aircraft were inducted into the squadron, which heralded a new era of rapid and efficient air transportation. The squadron was involved in "Operation Pawan" in support of the IPKF in Sri Lanka during 1987-88. Apart from supporting Andaman and Nicobar, the squadron undertook communication flights along with other air transportation commitments. On 22 July 2016, 33 Squadron under the command of Group Captain Ashish Kaul was tasked to undertake one more such air transport operation. Flt Lt Kunal Barpatte was tasked to undertake the operation as Navigator of the aircraft along with Flt Lt Pushpender Badsara as captain and Fg Offr Pankaj Kumar Nandal as co-pilot of the aircraft.


The task was to carry men and material from Chennai to the Air Force station at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  Flt Lt Kunal Barpatte along with other aircrew took off in an AN-32 (K-2743), a twin-engine turboprop transport aircraft, from Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai at 8.30 am, with 29 people on board, including six crew members, 11 Indian Air Force personnel; two Indian Army soldiers; one each from the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard; and eight defence civilians working with Naval Armament Depot (NAD) and the material load. The aircraft was one of the 50-odd medium-lift tactical aircraft upgraded with air-frame strengthening and newer avionics under the $398 million (Rs 1,965 crore) contract inked with Ukraine in June 2009. The aircraft was expected to land at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at 11.30 am. However, at 9.12 a.m. i.e. around 42 minutes after takeoff and about 151 nautical miles east of Chennai, the aircraft lost contact with the ground radar and went missing.


The IAF, the Navy, and the Coast Guard mounted a massive search and rescue operation. As many as 18 warships and vessels, as well as two Poseidon-8I, one C-130J Super Hercules, and three Dornier aircraft, were dispatched to the choppy seas in a “probable crash zone” to hunt for the missing Russia-made plane. Indian Navy and Coast Guard ships were deployed to scan the surface of the sea as part of the search operations after the aircraft went off the radar. Also, data from Indian satellites was scanned to locate the missing aircraft. The aircraft was not fitted with an underwater locator beacon, which made the search operations even more difficult. Despite massive search operations by the Navy, Indian Air Force, and Coast Guard, the aircraft and the passengers on board could not be traced. 


This disappearance kicked off India’s biggest search operation for a missing plane on the sea.  Despite massive search operations conducted jointly by the Navy, Indian Air Force, and the Coast Guards, the aircraft and passengers could not be traced.  The aircraft was not fitted with an underwater locator beacon, making the search operations difficult. Even scanning of data from Indian satellites failed to locate the missing aircraft. Consequently, on 15 September 2016, the search and rescue mission was called off and all 29 people on board were declared "presumed dead". However nearly eight years later, in Jan 2024, the debris of the missing aircraft were found by the National Institute of Ocean Technology, functioning under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, by deploying an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) at a depth of 3400 m, about 140 nautical miles from Chennai coast.


Flt Lt Kunal Barpatte was a dedicated and competent air warrior with a strong desire to serve the nation. However, his life was cut short and a committed soldier was lost in the line of duty. 

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  • Kavita Kamtikar

    2024 at 7:11 pm Reply

    Salute to you, dear brother. Jai Hind!

  • Yeshwanth kumar

    2024 at 7:12 pm Reply

    Always be remembered sir…jab b veer aur veergati mishal diyenge har samai aapka naam liya jayega barpat sir

  • Anika Awasti

    2024 at 7:12 pm Reply

    We shall forever remain indebted to you for your service to the nation. Jai Hind

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