Indonesian rescuers reach crash site, plane 'destroyed': Official

JAYAPURA, Indonesia - A plane that went down in eastern Indonesian carrying 54 people and large sums of money was "completely destroyed", an official said Tuesday, after rescuers finally reached the remote crash site.

There was little chance of finding survivors at the densely forested, mountainous location in Papua province where the Trigana Air plane went down in bad weather during a short flight on Sunday, search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo told AFP.

The ATR 42-300 is "completely destroyed", he said after rescue teams reached the site at 9:30 am (0030 GMT). "Everything was in pieces and part of the plane is burnt. We could see burn marks on some pieces." Photos of the site show a clearing in thick forest that appears to be fire-blackened and scattered with debris.

As well as checking for survivors, rescuers were also searching for the plane's flight data recorders, or "black boxes", which could shed light on what caused the twin-turboprop plane to crash, Soelistyo said.

There was no immediate information on whether any bodies had been found.

Neither was there news on the fate of 6.5 billion rupiah ($470,000) that were being transported by the plane in cash, intended for distribution to poor families as social assistance funds.

Thick fog and rain had hampered attempts by more than 250 rescuers and 11 aircraft to reach the wreckage on Monday, and they had been forced to turn back.

Poor aviation safety record

The disaster is just the latest air accident in Indonesia, which has a poor aviation safety record and has suffered major disasters in recent months, including the crash of an AirAsia plane in December with the loss of 162 lives.

The Trigana 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.

The plane lost contact with air traffic control about 10 minutes before reaching its destination, soon after the crew requested permission to start descending in heavy cloud and rain to land.

Officials suspect bad weather may have caused the crash.

Relatives of passengers waiting at Jayapura airport have become increasingly frustrated at the lack of hard news since the weekend, with some shouting "We want confirmation!" and throwing a table at a crisis centre in angry scenes on Monday.

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 also 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.

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 but airlines are struggling to find enough well-trained personnel to keep up with the rapid growth in the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.