Rugged, forested terrain and bad weather Tuesday have prevented rescuers from reaching the site where an Indonesian plane with 54 people on board crashed two days ago.
Smoldering wreckage of the Trigana Air Service turboprop plane was spotted from the air Monday morning in a rugged area of the easternmost province of Papua, rescue officials said. There was no immediate word of any survivors from Sunday’s crash, which happened in bad weather. “Steep ravines and bad weather have slowed rescuers,” said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the National Search and Rescue Agency chief. “They haven’t reached it yet, so we don’t know yet if anyone survived.” He said a helicopter was on standby to lower two rescuers by rope into a valley about 300 meters (yards) from the wreckage but visibility when the search resumed Tuesday was just one meter (yard) due to heavy fog.
The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was flying from Jayapura to the city of Oksibil when it lost contact, and its passengers included four postal workers aboard the plane were escorting four bags of cash totaling $468,750 in government aid for poor families to help offset a spike in fuel prices, Franciscus Haryono, the head of the post office in Jayapura, the provincial capital, told The Associated Press.
The cash from the Social Affairs Ministry was to be distributed among poor people in remote areas to cushion the jump in fuel costs, Haryono said.
“They were carrying those bags (of cash) to be handed out to poor people in Oksibil through a post office there,” Haryono said.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration raised fuel prices late last year and slashed government subsidies, a move the government says will save the country billions of dollars but which has also sparked protests around the country.
Officials said three search planes spotted the wreckage about 12 kilometers (7 miles) from Oksibil.
The plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew members on a scheduled 42-minute flight. Five children, including two infants, were among the passengers.
Soelistyo said the wreckage was spotted at an altitude of 2,600 meters (about 8,500 feet). Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed in the past have never been found.
The airline’s crisis center official in Jayapura’s Sentani airport, Budiono, said all the passengers were Indonesians, and included three local government officials and two members of the local parliament who were to attend a ceremony Monday in Oksibil marking the 70th anniversary of Indonesia’s independence from Dutch colonial rule.
Oksibil, about 280 kilometers (175 miles) south of Jayapura, was experiencing heavy rain, strong winds and fog when the plane lost contact with the airport minutes before it was scheduled to land.
Indonesia has had a string of airline tragedies in recent years. In December, all 162 people aboard an AirAsia jet were killed when the plane plummeted into the Java Sea as it flew through stormy weather on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, to Singapore.
The sprawling archipelago nation of 250 million people and some 17,000 islands is one of Asia’s most rapidly expanding airline markets, but it is struggling to provide enough qualified pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and updated airport technology to ensure safety.
From 2007 to 2009, the European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe because of safety concerns.
Trigana Air Service, which began operations in 1991, had 22 aircraft as of December 2013 and flies to 21 destinations in Indonesia. The carrier has had 19 serious incidents since 1992, resulting in the loss of eight aircraft and major damage to 11 others, according to the Aviation Safety Network’s online database.
The airline remains banned from flying to Europe along with other six Indonesian airlines.