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Wreckage of missing Indonesian plane spotted, officials say

Wreckage of missing Indonesian plane spotted, officials say
The mother of a crew member of a missing Trigana Air Service plane cries as she walks out of the airline's main office inJakarta, Indonesia, on Aug. 16. (Mast Irham / European Pressphoto Agency)

A search plane has spotted the wreckage of an Indonesian passenger plane that went missing with 54 people aboard, rescue officials said Monday.

There was no immediate word if there were any survivors from the crash, which happened in bad weather Sunday in Indonesia's mountainous easternmost province of Papua.

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The Trigana Air Service plane was flying from Papua's provincial capital, Jayapura, to the city of Oksibil when it lost contact with Oksibil's airport. Transportation Ministry spokesman Julius Barata said there was no indication that the pilot had made a distress call.

Officials said the wreckage was spotted about seven miles from Oksibil, and Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency, said search and rescue teams were preparing to try to reach the crash site by air and foot.

The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew members on a scheduled 42-minute journey, Barata said. Five children, including two infants, were among the passengers.

"Smoke was still billowing from the wreckage when it was spotted by a plane search," said Soelistyo, who is leading the rescue operation from Sentani Airport in Jayapura. He added that bad weather and rugged terrain were hampering efforts to reach the wreckage, which is in a mountainous area at about 8,500 feet.

He said elite forces from the air force and army would build a helipad for evacuation purposes near the crash site.

Search planes went into the air early Monday after residents of a village not far from Oksibil told local police that they saw a plane flying low before crashing into a mountain, said Ludiyanto, who heads the search and rescue operation from Jayapura.

Ludiyanto, who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name, said that rugged, forested terrain and bad weather were hindering the search.

Local media reports said all the passengers are Indonesians. The airline has not released a passenger manifest.

Oksibil, which is 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, said Susanto, the head of Papua's search and rescue agency.

Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed have never been found.

Dudi Sudibyo, an aviation analyst, said that Papua is a particularly dangerous place to fly because of its mountainous terrain and rapidly changing weather patterns. "I can say that a pilot who is capable of flying there will be able to fly an aircraft in any part of the world," he said.

European plane maker ATR said in a statement late Sunday that it "acknowledges the reported loss of contact" with the Trigana flight "and is standing by to support the relevant aviation authorities."

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ATR, based in Toulouse, France, makes regional planes with 90 seats or less.

Indonesia has had its share of airline woes in recent years. The sprawling archipelago nation of 250 million people and about 17,000 islands is one of Asia's most rapidly expanding airline markets, but 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.

In December, all 162 people aboard an AirAsia jet were killed when the plane plummeted into the Java Sea as it ran into stormy weather on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, to Singapore.

That disaster was one of five suffered by Asian carriers in a 12-month span, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing in March 2014 with 239 people aboard during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Trigana Air Service, which commenced operations in 1991, had 22 aircraft as of December 2013 and flies to 21 destinations in Indonesia.

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