, JAYAPURA, Indonesia Aug 16 – A passenger plane carrying 54 people went missing Sunday during a flight in bad weather in rugged eastern Indonesia, officials said, in what could be the latest accident to hit the country’s aviation sector.
The plane operated by Indonesian carrier Trigana Air lost contact with air traffic control just before 3:00 pm (0600 GMT) after taking off from Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, the search and rescue agency said.
The ATR 42-300 turboprop plane was carrying 44 adults, five children and five crew on the flight which was scheduled to take about 45 minutes, the agency said.
The agency said the flight had left Jayapura about half an hour before it disappeared and was headed to Oksibil, a remote settlement in the mountains south of the provincial capital and only accessible by plane.
Ten minutes before it was due to land, the plane contacted Oksibil control tower asking to descend, Captain Beni Sumaryanto, Trigana Air’s service director of operations, told AFP.
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),” 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 overcapacity, as the plane could take 50 passengers.”
Papua police spokesman Patridge Renwarin told local TV that residents had reported seeing a plane crash, and local authorities were heading to the area to investigate but as yet there was no report from the team on the ground.
– ‘Very bad weather’ –
Transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata confirmed the plane had lost contact.
“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.”
Trigana Air is a small airline established in 1991 that operates domestic services to around 40 destinations in Indonesia.