Crashed Indonesian plane found ‘destroyed’, no survivors (Update)

People look at a passenger and baggage manifest of the crashed Trigana Air Service flight at the airport in Sentani, near Jayapura, Papua province, Indonesia.- Reuters

JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AFP) - A plane that went down in eastern Indonesia two days ago was found “completely destroyed” and all 54 people on board dead, officials said, after rescuers finally reached the remote crash site Tuesday.

The Trigana Air plane went down Sunday in bad weather during a short flight from the capital of Papua province to a remote settlement in the mountains.   “The plane has crashed, it is completely destroyed,” search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo said of the ATR 42-300 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.

The plane was carrying 54 people -- 49 passengers and five crew -- and officials said all the bodies had been found among the wreckage.   Attempts were now being made to remove the dead from the mountainous site, but the weather was creating problems.

“The challenge is the weather, it changes from good to bad very fast and it’s very cold now,” Captain Beni Sumaryanto, Trigana Air’s service director of operations, told AFP.   Rescuers were now 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 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.   A team of about 100 rescuers, including personnel from the military, police and search and rescue agency, were at the crash site, the transport ministry said.

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 lost contact with air traffic control about 10 minutes before reaching its remote destination Oksibil, 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.

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.

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