Bad weather hampers bid to reach Indonesian plane crash site

Family members of passengers on board the crashed Trigana Air flight wait for information at Sentani Airport near Jayapura, Papua province, Indonesia.
PHOTO: Reuters

JAYAPURA, Indonesia - Bad weather hampered efforts on Monday (Aug 17) to reach debris in the remote eastern Indonesian mountains believed to be from a plane that crashed carrying 54 people and cash worth almost half a million dollars.

More than 250 rescuers had tried to battle through dense forest to reach what is thought to be the wreckage of the Trigana Air plane, which disappeared on Sunday during a short flight in Papua province.

The ATR 42-300 twin-turboprop plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew on the journey from Papua's capital Jayapura to Oksibil, a remote settlement in the mountains to the south.

Also on the plane was 6.5 billion rupiah (S$650,000) in cash - social assistance funds being transported for distribution to poor families, according to the head of the Jayapura post office. The cash was being carried by four post office officials in bags.

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

A plane on Monday spotted debris engulfed in smoke in the mountains near Oksibil and search teams, including soldiers and police, set off in the early hours to reach the site, which is at an altitude of 8,300 feet (2,500 metres).

But thick fog, which reduced visibility to one metre (three feet), and rain hindered the bid to reach the crash site, the head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency Bambang Soelistyo told AFP.

Efforts to reach the location, about 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Oksibil, were called off for the day at 5.30pm (0830 GMT) and would resume on Tuesday, he added.


A photo of the suspected site showed an area that appeared to be fire-blackened and scattered with debris in thick forest, and Soelistyo said he was "98 per cent" certain it was the location of the crash.

He said the chance of any survivors was "very slim". All those on the plane were believed to be Indonesians.

Relatives of passengers were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of hard news.

Some shouted "We want confirmation!" and threw 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, told AFP.

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

Small aircraft are commonly used for transport in remote and mountainous Papua and bad weather has caused several accidents in recent years.

Last week, a Cessna propeller plane crashed in Papua's Yahukimo district, killing one person and seriously injuring the five others on board. Officials suspect that crash was caused by bad weather.

Trigana Air, a small domestic Indonesian airline, has experienced a string of serious incidents and is banned from flying in European Union airspace.

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.

The aviation sector in Indonesia is expanding fast as the economy booms but airlines are struggling to find enough well-trained personnel to keep up with the rapid growth.