AN AIRLINER carrying 54 people went missing Sunday during a short flight in bad weather in Indonesia’s mountainous easternmost province of Papua, and rescuers were 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 had made a distress call, he said.
Residents of Okbape village in Papua’s Bintang district told local police that they saw a plane flying low before crashing into a mountain, said the head of Papua’s search and rescue agency Susanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
Okbape is about 24 kilometers (15 miles) west of Oksibil.
Susanto 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 Monday.
Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency tweeted that its team had not yet reached the site and could not confirm reports that wreckage of the crash had been found.
“Until now, the combined rescue team has not reached the crash site / location of the incident which according to local residents have seen Trigana plane crashed,” it posted on Twitter.
“Immediately then we also could not confirm the news circulating outside.”
DFAT have confirmed to News Corp there were no Australians on board the flight, and no other international passengers.
At a news conference Sunday night at the transport ministry in Jakarta, officials said they would not have any details on the villagers’ report until rescuers reach the area.
“We are now working closely with the National Search and Rescue Agency to find the plane,” said Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan.
The Trigana Air ATR 42 turboprop plane lost contact in a remote area at about 2:55pm (0555 GMT) after taking off from Sentani airport in Papua’s capital Jayapura at 2:22pm on a flight to Oksibil, the search and rescue agency said on Twitter.
It was travelling to the Papua city of Oksibil and was scheduled to land at about 3:16pm.
The plane, which is more than 27 years old, was carrying 44 adults, five children and five crew on the flight which was scheduled to take about 45 minutes, the agency said. It had left Jayapura about half an hour before it disappeared, it added.
Transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata confirmed the plane had lost contact and said it was supposed to arrive at Oksibil airport just after 3pm, nine minutes before it was scheduled to land.
“We are not sure what happened to the plane yet and we are coordinating with local authorities,” he told AFP.
“The weather is currently very bad there, it’s very dark and cloudy. It’s not conducive for a search. The area is mountainous.”
The weather was poor near Oksibil, with 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 Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency.
Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed there in the past have never been found.
“It’s incredibly difficult, because of the terrain you have problems with radio frequencies
coordinating where they are,” David Soucie, a former SAA inspector, told CNN.
“This can get very complex very quickly, if it was a big flat open field it would be different. I suspect tomorrow morning first thing, they’ll start the search in lower areas down below where the aircraft could have made a successful landing.”
A search for the plane was suspended and will resume Monday morning.
Trigana Air is an Indonesian airline, which is on a list of airlines banned from operating in the European Union..
Indonesia has a patchy aviation safety record. In December an AirAsia plane flying from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore crashed in the Java Sea during stormy weather, killing all 162 people on board.