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Tsunami wrecks frontline IAF base

Amitabha Roychowdhury in Car Nicobar | December 28, 2004 16:26 IST

Sunday's tsunami waves have wrecked the Indian Air Force's plans to turn the Car Nicobar island into a major fighter base.

In view the strategic location of this island, the air force had planned to expand the small base into a major fighter hub by placing the frontline SU-30 MKI planes here.

Also see: Velankanni: Deaths in the churchyard! | Tsunami: Waves of destruction

The Car Nicobar island straddles the access to the Malacca Strait waterways, through which 75 per cent of the world's crude oil passes.

The island was one of the worst hit by tsunami in Andaman and Nicobar.
The IAF had planned to place two SU-30 multi-role aircraft on the island from January 5. The deployment may be delayed now.

Also see: 'I have never seen anything like this' | 27 Air Force personnel dead 

"We will have the fighters operating from the base within six months," a determined Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy
told PTI as he assessed the damage caused to the base.

"In a year's time we will make the base fully operational. The problem is of transporting each and every construction material by ships and planes again to this place. The material include even the concrete which we have to lay on the runway," the air chief said.

Pictures: Death by the sea | 'Quakes don't kill, human error does'

Though earthquake-prone, the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands offer an ideal strategic ground for operations covering the entire Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Rim.

Andaman and Nicobar islands were extensively used by the British and American forces in the World War-II to carry out their campaign against Japanese forces in Southeast Asia.

The IAF so far was using the Car Nicobar base or Air Force Station 'Carnic' for helicopter and transport aircraft
operations, with a squadron of five Mi-8 choppers stationed here.

The 9,000 feet runway has now been cut short by the waves to about 5,000 feet.

Despite this constraint, the IAF pilots are flying large aircraft like 'Gajraj' (IL-76) and An-32s in and out for relief and rescue operations.

A Boeing 737, carrying the air chief, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee also landed on this runway on Monday.

Describing Sunday's tsunami as a great tragedy, the IAF chief said: "It only reminds me of the devastation experienced
by the IAF in the Bhuj quake where we lost so many lives."

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