Plane with 54 aboard missing in Indonesia
A PASSENGER plane carrying 54 people went missing yesterday, during a flight in bad weather in eastern Indonesia's rugged Papua province, officials said, in what could be the latest accident to hit the country's aviation sector.
Search efforts for the plane operated by Indonesian carrier Trigana Air were hampered by failing light last evening.
The ATR 42-300 turboprop plane lost contact with air traffic control just before 3pm local time after taking off from Jayapura, Papua's capital, reported Agence France-Presse.
The plane - which was headed to Oksibil, a remote settlement due south of Jayapura and accessible only by plane - was carrying 44 adults, five children and five crew members on a flight scheduled to take about 45 minutes, the agency said.
Ten minutes before it was due to land, the plane contacted Oksibil control tower asking to descend, said Beni Sumaryanto, Trigana Air's service director of operations.
But the plane never arrived. Half an hour later, Trigana Air sent another turboprop plane over the same route to look for the missing aircraft, he said.
"But the weather was very bad, it could not find it and the plane was turned back to Sentani (Jayapura airport)," Captain Sumaryanto said.
He added: "Oksibil is a mountainous area where weather is very unpredictable. It can suddenly turn foggy, dark and windy without warning.
"We strongly suspect it's a weather issue. It is not over its capacity, as the plane could take 50 passengers."
Papua police told local TV that residents had reported seeing a plane crash.
Small aircraft are commonly used for transport in mountainous Papua.
Trigana Air is a small airline established in 1991 that operates domestic services to around 40 destinations in Indonesia.
The airline has suffered 14 serious incidents since it began operations 24 years ago, according to the Aviation Safety Network, an online database.
It has been on the European Union blacklist of banned carriers, apparently due to safety concerns.
ATR is a joint venture between Airbus and Alenia Aermacchi, a subsidiary of Italian aerospace firm Finmeccanica, reported Reuters.
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.
In June, 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 country's economy booms, but airlines are struggling to find enough well-trained personnel to keep up with the rapid growth.