Rescuers race to Indon plane crash site

  • 17/08/2015

By Levi Cunding

Rescuers are racing to reach debris in remote eastern Indonesian mountains believed to be from a plane that crashed carrying 54 people and more than half a million dollars in cash.

The plane operated by Indonesian carrier Trigana Air lost contact with air traffic control on Sunday afternoon (local time) in bad weather on a short flight from Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.

The ATR 42-300 twin-turboprop plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew on the journey to Oksibil, a remote settlement in the mountains to the south of Jayapura. There were no foreigners on board, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was told.

Also on the plane was 6.5 billion rupiah (NZ$715,000) in cash, which were government funds being transported by postal officials for distribution to poor families, according to the head of the Jayapura post office.

But the plane disappeared about 10 minutes before reaching its destination, soon after requesting permission to start descending in heavy cloud to land.

On Monday, a search plane spotted debris engulfed in smoke near Oksibil and another aircraft was being sent to check. Villagers had already reported seeing the plane crash into a mountain on Sunday and spotted wreckage.

A team of rescuers, including troops and police, were heading to the area on foot but will have to battle through dense forest to reach the remote site, which is at an altitude of about 2600 metres, according to officials.

"The area is steep and is covered by dense forests.... There is no road, no access at all," said Papua military spokesman Teguh Pudji Rahardjo.

There was no word yet on whether anyone might have survived the crash.

Australia has offered to help with the investigation of the plane crash.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made the offer to her Indonesian counterpart and officials are in discussions on the matter.

Relatives of passengers, all locals, were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of hard news, with some shouting "We want confirmation!" and throwing a table at a crisis centre set up by Trigana Air at Jayapura airport.

"My family and I have been gathered here for hours. We want to know the fate of my brother, Kepi Deal, who was on board the plane," Rifan Wea, one of about 100 relatives at the airport, said.

"We want to know whether he is dead or alive."

Captain Beni Sumaryanto, Trigana Air's service director of operations, said the weather was "very unpredictable" in the area where the plane went missing and he believed bad conditions had caused the crash.

Last year's AirAsia crash was one of two major air accidents that Indonesia has suffered in the past year alone.

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.