Rescuers headed Monday (Aug 17) to the site in remote eastern Indonesia where debris has been spotted after a plane crashed with 54 people aboard at the weekend, the latest accident to hit the country's aviation sector.
The plane operated by Indonesian carrier Trigana Air lost contact with air traffic control on Sunday afternoon during a short flight in bad weather from Jayapura, capital of Papua province. The ATR 42-300 twin-turboprop plane was carrying 44 adult passengers, five children and five crew on the flight which was scheduled to take about 45 minutes.
But the plane disappeared about 10 minutes before reaching its destination Oksibil, a remote settlement in the mountains south of Jayapura, shortly after it asked permission to start descending to land.
Officials said at the weekend that villagers had seen a plane crashing into a mountain not far from Oksibil, and had found wreckage. On Monday the transport ministry said a search plane had also spotted wreckage in the area. "Early this morning, a plane swept the route and sighted debris in an area near Oksibil, but we want to double-check now," transport ministry spokesman J A Barata told AFP.
Bambang Soelistyo, head of the search and rescue agency, told reporters in Jayapura that debris engulfed in smoke had been spotted from the air.
AIR AND LAND SEARCH
The search and rescue agency said another plane was being sent over the site to double-check and search and rescue personnel were heading by foot to the mountainous, densely forested area.
It is just the latest air accident in Indonesia, which has a patchy aviation safety record and has suffered major incidents recently, including the crash of an AirAsia plane in December with the loss of 162 lives.
Trigana Air, a small domestic airline, has suffered a string of safety incidents and is banned from flying in European Union airspace.
After the plane failed to land at the weekend, Trigana Air sent another flight over the area to hunt for it but the aircraft failed to spot anything due to bad weather.
Captain Beni Sumaryanto, Trigana Air's service director of operations, said the area where the plane went missing was mountainous and the weather was "very unpredictable".
"It can suddenly turn foggy, dark and windy without warning," he said. "We strongly suspect it's a weather issue. It is not overcapacity, as the plane could take 50 passengers." Barata had described the weather as "very dark and cloudy".
Small aircraft are commonly used for transport in remote and mountainous Papua and bad weather has caused several accidents in recent years.
Last week a Cessna propeller plane crashed in Papua's Yahukimo district, killing one person and seriously injuring the five others on board. Officials suspect that crash was caused by bad weather.
Indonesia has suffered two major air accidents in the past year, including the AirAsia crash. The second incident happened in June when an Indonesian military plane crashed into a residential neighbourhood in the city of Medan, exploding in a fireball and killing 142 people.
The aviation sector in Indonesia is expanding fast as the economy booms but airlines are struggling to find enough well-trained personnel to keep up with the rapid growth.