Rescuers rush to crash site as 54 on flight feared dead
An airliner carrying 54 people has gone missing during a short flight in bad weather in Indonesia's mountainous easternmost province of Papua.
Rescuers were last night heading to an area where villagers reported seeing a plane crash into a mountain, officials said.
The Trigana Air Service plane was flying from Papua's provincial capital Jayapura to the Papua city of Oksibil when it lost contact with Oksibil's airport, said transportation ministry spokesman Julius Barata.
There was no indication that the pilot made a distress call, he said.
The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew members on the scheduled 42-minute journey, Mr Barata said. Five children including two infants were among the passengers.
Local media reports said all the passengers are Indonesians.
Oksibil, which is about 1280km south of Jayapura, was experiencing heavy rain, strong winds and fog when the plane lost contact with the airport minutes before it was scheduled to land, said Susanto, the head of Papua's search and rescue agency.
Residents of Okbape village - 24km west of Oksibil in Papua's Bintang district - told local police they saw a plane flying low before crashing into a mountain, said Susanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
He said about 150 rescuers were heading to the remote area, which is known for its dense forest and steep cliffs, and would begin searching for the plane early today.
At a news conference at the transport ministry in Jakarta, officials said they would not have any details on the villagers' report until rescuers reached the area.
"We are now working closely with the National Search and Rescue Agency to find the plane," said minister Ignasius Jonan.
A plane was sent to look for the missing airliner, but the search was suspended due to darkness and limited visibility and would resume this morning, Susanto said.
Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed there in the past have never been found.
Indonesia has had its share of airline woes in recent years. The sprawling archipelago nation of 250 million people and 17,000 islands is one of Asia's most rapidly expanding airline markets, but is struggling to provide enough qualified pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and updated airport technology to ensure safety.
From 2007 to 2009, the European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe because of safety concerns.
Last December, all 162 people aboard an AirAsia jet were killed when the plane plummeted into the Java Sea as it ran into stormy weather on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, to Singapore.
That disaster was one of five suffered by Asian carriers in a 12-month span, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing in March last year with 239 people aboard.