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P-8I naval aircraft played key role in the rescue of Commander Abhilash Tomy

P-8I naval aircraft played key role in the rescue of Commander Abhilash TomyNEW DELHI: While the P-8I maritime patrol aircraft came under the CAG’s scanner last month over deliberate attempts made to favour the American manufacturer, Boeing, over its Spanish competitor during the UPA regime and lacking in certain operational requirements, the Indian Navy plane has emerged as the most important element in the rescue of Commander Abhilash Tomy from sea on Monday, being the first to reach his location and relay vital inputs and visuals to the different countries involved in bringing him out.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in a scathing report tabled in Parliament last month said that Boeing was favoured, because the defence ministry ‘enhanced’ a financial bid by EADS CASA, Spain- now rebranded as Airbus Military- to include a 20 year support package. This package was not available in the Boeing offer and therefore it became cheaper. The contract for procuring the P-8I aircraft, worth $2.1 billion, was concluded with Boeing in January 2009. At a later date, Boeing offered product support as a separate negotiable contract. The CAG also pointed out that the aircraft doesn’t completely meet the navy’s requirements, such as it is not able to achieve the envisaged coverage area requirements due to limitations of its radars.

However, the navy stands by its P-8I fleet and has deployed them in its key missions and exercises. Even on Monday, it played a prominent role in the rescue operation of Indian Navy officer, Commander Abhilash Tomy. Tomy, who was representing India at the Golden Globe Race 2018 on an indigenously built sailing vessel ‘Thuriya’ and was in third position out of 11 international participants, suffered a setback. Last Friday, a wave of the height of 14 m (almost 45 feet) and wind speeds of over 100 knots hit his boat, which underwent a “360 degree turn”. The boat’s mast broke and he suffered a grievous back injury. Tomy in a message via a sat phone later indicated that he is safe on the boat, however is immobile due to the injury.

During the mishap, Tomy also sent an SOS to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Australia. He was located in the south Indian Ocean, about 1900 nautical miles from Perth and 2700 nautical miles from Kanyakumari. Sources explained that Australian authorities informed India that they broadcast a message asking anyone located in the area to look for Tomy. Later, it was an Indian Navy P-8I aircraft that was launched from Mauritius on Saturday night and was the first to spot Thuriya at 2 am on Sunday.

Confirming this, Indian Navy spokesperson, Captain D K Sharma, had posted on Twitter that the aircraft was the first to have reached Tomy’s location. “#IndianNavy P-8i was inducted at Mauritius on 22 Sep & was the first responder to the crisis. Our ac was the first to have reached the area despite the lingering stormy weather and located the disabled vessel Thuriya paving the way for rescue,” he wrote.

He also added that the P-8I was a “force multiplier” and during the past 50 hours was the “eyes of the world” in the rescue effort. “Capability of our P8i has been a humongous force multiplier who has given us & the Australian MRCC a huge input into the state of Thuriya for planning purposes. Indian Naval Defence Attache' in Australia camping in regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC),” Sharma wrote in a tweet.

He added, “During the past 50 hrs our aircraft has been the eyes of the world in overseeing the rescue living upto the unit's motto *Mission Assigned, Mission Accomplished* Well Done Albatross.”

Meanwhile, an Australian Naval ship, HMAS Ballarat, had left Perth to save Tomy. Indian Navy ships, NS Satpura and INS Jyoti, were also headed towards his direction, but Satpura would only reach him by Friday. On Monday, at about 11.30 am, a French fishing vessel, Osiris, reached the vicinity of Thuriya. The rescue team shifted Tomy in a stretcher from Thuriya to Osiris using their Gemini boat. “This happened while a navy P-8I was flying on top and guiding them to the hatch on the Thuriya, through which they entered and took Tomy away on a stretcher,” explained sources.

The French ship has a medic. Tomy was given food, water and painkillers. “For the past 72 hours, he didn’t eat and drink properly. He was only drinking iced tea, which was probably what he could reach in the boat due to his injury,” explained sources.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman posted on Twitter that Tomy will be taken to Amsterdam. “A sense of relief to know that naval officer @abhilashtomy is rescued by the French fishing vessel. He's conscious and doing okay. The vessel will shift him to a nearby island (I'lle Amsterdam) by evening. INS Satpura will take him to Mauritius for medical attention,” she wrote.

Regardless of the CAG report on the 2009 P-8I contract in which all eight of them have been inducted in the navy, India has ordered an additional four in 2016 in a $1 billion deal.

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