Search for crashed plane in Indonesia’s Papua gets underway

By Fergus Jensen & Hdayat Setiaji 17 August 2015

JAKARTA — Search and rescue teams prepared to scour mountainous, heavily forested terrain on Monday in Indonesia’s eastern region of Papua where a passenger plane with 54 people on board crashed, officials said.

Heavy cloud initially delayed plans for an aerial survey to locate the Trigana Air Service ATR 42-300 plane, which the government confirmed on Sunday had crashed, the latest in a string of aviation disasters in Southeast 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.

There were 44 adult passengers, five children and infants and five crew on the short-haul flight from Sentani Airport in Jayapura, capital of Papua province, south to Oksibil.

All those on the plane were Indonesian nationals, a National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) official said.

“The weather is good, no problem. All flights are ready to go,” said Pratu Susilo, the operator at Sentani airport, from where an aerial survey would take off to a mountainous area near where villagers reported on Sunday that a plane had come down.

Indonesia’s official Antara news agency has reported that the search and rescue aircraft has sighted debris thought to be from the Trigana aircraft in the Bintang Mountains regency.

A search team on land, meanwhile, set out from Oksibil on Sunday for the area where contact with the aircraft was lost.

A Super Puma helicopter crashed in the same area last year, said Sito, a BASARNAS 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,” Sito said.

Air transport is commonly used in Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province, where land travel is often impossible.

The Trigana airline has a fleet of 14 aircraft, according to the 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.

Airlines on the EU’s blacklist are barred from operating in European airspace due to either concerns about safety standards or the regulatory environment in their country of registration.

Airline officials were not immediately available to respond to questions from Reuters.

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.

That crash prompted the government to introduce regulations aimed at improving safety.

Indonesia’s president promised a review of the ageing air force fleet in July after a military transport plane crashed, killing more than 100 people.