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Indonesia Plane Wreck Found in Papua, Terrain Hampers Search

Image: Indonesia Plane Wreck Found in Papua, Terrain Hampers Search
Indonesia's Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan (L) looks on as Director General for Air Transportation Suprasetyo (R) speaks during a press conference in Jakarta on August 16, 2015. (ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Monday, 17 Aug 2015 09:47 AM

Indonesian authorities said the wreckage of a PT Trigana Air Service flight with 54 people on board was found in Indonesia's Papua region, with the mountainous terrain hampering searchers reaching the area to look for survivors.

A Trigana Air pilot spotted the wreckage in the "area that we suspected last night," Ludi Yanto, head of the Jayapura Search and Rescue Office, said by telephone Monday.

Search teams have yet to reach the site and the aerial hunt has been suspended until early Tuesday morning because of clouds and as night falls in the region, said Zainul Thahar, a spokesman at the National Search and Rescue Agency. The land team is still on the way, he said.

Flight IL267 lost contact with air traffic controllers on Sunday amid cloudy weather. The plane was flying to Oksibil from Sentani in Jayapura, Indonesia, on a domestic flight.

"The weather was clear when the airplane took off, but 10 minutes before it was to land, it became cloudy and the airport wasn't visible due to heavy clouds," Raymond Konstantin, the search and rescue office's operations officer, said by phone Sunday. "Maybe they could no longer see the airport. Weather can change very fast in the mountains."

The missing plane brought aviation safety in Asia back into focus after a spate of crashes in the past two years. In December, a plane belonging to the Indonesian unit of AirAsia Bhd. crashed into the ocean, killing all 162 people on board.

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Last year, Malaysia Airlines lost two planes, while Taipei- based TransAsia Airways Corp. has suffered two fatal crashes in the past two years. Trigana is on a list of airlines banned in the European Union.

Authorities are sending cars to inspect Okbape village, near Oksibil, after locals said they saw an airplane flying in that direction, Konstantin said. The village is accessible by land and the search team is scouring the mountainous and forested region by foot from there.

"The terrain is quite difficult, we'll just have to wait," Heronimus Guru, deputy operations director at the national search agency, said by phone Monday. "Let's allow the land search team to reach location, set up a helipad and as soon as the weather is clear, they will go straight to the location."

Sentani is located below the equator, about 5,400 kilometers (3,300 miles) east of Jakarta.

The terrain is best compared to the Amazon basin -- aggressive, inhospitable and unnavigable by foot, according to a September risk report by aviation consulting firm Martin Consulting LLC. Indonesian Papua and Papua New Guinea are among the world's highest-risk aviation regions, according to the report.

Dangerous Weather

"The weather characteristic of the region is tropical, which means constant low clouds, high rain clouds, which are dangerous and unforgiving if entered by accident by an aircraft or helicopter," Mark D. Martin, founder and chief executive officer of the Dubai-based consulting firm, said in an e-mail.

The plane took off at 2:22 p.m. Papua time, which is two hours ahead of Jakarta, and was scheduled to arrive in Oksibil at 3:04 p.m. The flight lost contact with the Oksibil tower at 2:55 p.m.

The turboprop plane, made by France's Avions de Transport Regional, was carrying 44 adult passengers, five children and infants and had five crew members, Indonesia's Basarnas search agency said on its Twitter account. There was no indication that the pilot had made a distress call, the Associated Press reported, citing transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata.

The aging plane made its first flight 27 years ago, according to Aviation Safety Net, a website that collects information about airline accidents.

"ATR acknowledges the reported loss of contact of flight TGN267 Trigana Air Service and is standing by to support the relevant aviation authorities," the planemaker said in a statement.

Indonesia's Issues

Trigana has had eight previous accidents or incidents since 2002, though no fatalities since 2006, according to Aviation Safety Net. The airline provided no additional information about the missing plane.

A spate of crashes in the past decade prompted Indonesia to amend laws in 2008 and boost plane-safety checks after the E.U. banned Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe. The ban has been partially lifted.

AirAsia's Flight 8501 crashed in December after taking off from Indonesia's Surabaya en route to Singapore without a transport ministry permit to fly that day. The government suspended AirAsia's license for that route, found other airlines in breach of permits and removed officials involved from the ministry, state air-navigation operator AirNav Indonesia and state airport company PT Angkasa Pura 1.

Three crashes involving the most modern airliners made last year the deadliest for air travel in almost a decade. The loss of two Malaysia Airlines Boeing Co. 777s, as well as AirAsia's crash in December, killed 665 passengers, accounting for 75 percent of the annual toll of 884, according to safety consultant Ascend Worldwide.

In February, an ATR 72-600 plane belonging to TransAsia crashed into a river near Taipei moments after taking off. Another ATR plane from the same airline crashed in July last year.

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Indonesian authorities said the wreckage of a PT Trigana Air Service flight with 54 people on board was found in Indonesia's Papua region, with the mountainous terrain hampering searchers reaching the area to look for survivors.
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