Villagers saw Indonesian plane crash into mountain, officials say

FILE PHOTO - Trigana Air Service's ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane (AP photo)

Jakarta, Indonesia (CNN) – The Trigana Air Service plane that went missing Sunday has been found, Indonesia’s director general of air transportation, Suprasetyo, said during a news conference. The wreckage was found in the Oktabe district of Papua province, he said. Details are still being verified, Suprasetyo said, but villagers reported seeing the plane, which was carrying 54 passengers and crew, crash into a mountain.

Search and rescue teams that suspended their efforts Sunday will conduct aerial and ground searches Monday to confirm the villagers’ reports, he said.

The domestic flight lost contact with air traffic control in Papua province Sunday afternoon, the nation’s search and rescue agency said on Twitter.

The flight left Sentani Airport in Jayapura at 2:22 p.m. and was scheduled to land in Oksibil at about 3:16 p.m., officials said.

The plane lost contact at about 2:55 p.m., Transportation Ministry spokesman J.A. Barata told CNN Indonesia.

Barata said there was no indication that a distress call was made from the plane. Officials received reports Sunday afternoon that villagers had seen the plane go down, he said.
The plane was carrying 44 adult passengers, five children and five crew members. The search, which involved forested and mountainous terrain, was called off because weather and lack of light made an already dangerous landscape more problematic.

“A search was launched earlier today, but was called off because of bad weather, and it’s also now dark there,” Barata said.

Barata said he would be flying from Jakarta to Papua along with investigators and search and rescue officials.

Thunderstorms in the mountains

There are many possible reasons for the apparent lack of a distress call, CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo said. It could indicate that flight crew members were too busy dealing with whatever situation arose to have time to send one, or that they simply didn’t realize they were in trouble.

Officials said the weather was clear when the plane took off in Jayapura, but CNN meteorologist Ivan Cabrera said there were some thunderstorms over a mountainous area in the flight path.

The weather could get worse in the coming days, possibly impeding rescue efforts in an area with mountain peaks as high as 3 kilometers (10,000 feet).

“The terrain is going to be an issue as well, as we have some pretty steep slopes here,” Cabrera said.

Trigana banned from flying in Europe

The Trigana Air Service plane is at least the third aircraft to go missing in Asia in the the past 18 months.

On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished from radar while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. A chunk of the plane recently washed up on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, but authorities are still looking for the bulk of the plane. MH370 had 239 people on board.

And on December 28, 2014, AirAsia Flight QZ8501 disappeared while headed from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. That plane, which had 162 people on board, was later found in the Java Sea.

Trigana Air Service is one of a large number of airlines banned from operating in European airspace”because they are found to be unsafe and/or they are not sufficiently overseen by their authorities,” according to the European Commission. It has been on the list since 2007.

Kathy Quiano reported from Jakarta; Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin, Laura Smith-Spark and David Molko contributed to this report.

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