Yemisi Izuora/Agency Report
A search plane has spotted wreckage from a passenger plane that crashed in Indonesia’s eastern region of Papua on Sunday.
Debris from the Trigana plane was sighted on Monday with smoke still billowing from it in the heavily forested Bintang mountains where it crashed with 54 people on board.
Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the chief of the national search and rescue agency, said search and rescue teams were preparing to try to reach the crash site by air and foot.
The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew members on a scheduled 42-minute journey from Jayapura, capital of Papua province, to Oksibil. Five children, including two infants, were among the passengers. All the people on board were Indonesian nationals.
“Smoke was still billowing from the wreckage when it was spotted by a plane search,” said Soelistyo who is leading the rescue operation from Sentani airport in Jayapura, adding that bad weather and rugged terrain were hampering efforts to reach the wreckage located in a mountainous area at an altitude of 2,600m (about 8,500 feet).
He said elite forces from the air force and army will build a helipad for evacuation purposes near the crash site.
Search planes went into the air early Monday after residents of a village not far from Oksibil told local police that they saw a plane flying low before crashing into a mountain.
Airline officials were not immediately available to respond to questions, Reuters said.
Heavy cloud on Monday morning initially delayed plans for an aerial survey to locate the plane, which the government confirmed on Sunday had crashed, the latest in a string of aviation disasters in south-east Asia.
The ATR 42-300 that went missing made its first flight 27 years ago, according to online database the Aviation Safety Network. The airline has been on the European Union’s list of banned carriers since 2007.
A Super Puma helicopter crashed in the same area last year, said Sito, a national search and rescue agency communications operator in Jayapura who goes by one name. “It’s the weather there, it changes all the time. In the morning it can be clear and hot and then suddenly it rains.”
Air transport is commonly used in Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province, where land travel is often impossible.
Trigana Air has a fleet of 14 aircraft, according to the airfleets.com database. These include 10 ATR aircraft and four Boeing 737 Classics. These have an average age of 26.6 years, according to the database.
Trigana has had 14 serious incidents since it began operations in 1991, according to the Aviation Safety Network. Excluding this latest incident, it has written off 10 aircraft.
Indonesia has a patchy aviation safety record and has seen two major plane crashes in the past year, including an AirAsia flight that went down in the Java Sea, killing all 162 on board.