In­done­sian plane de­bris seen; car­ried 54 peo­ple

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY AL­FIAN KARTONO

An air­plane with 54 peo­ple on board that crashed in the moun­tains of eastern In­done­sia was car­ry­ing nearly half a mil­lion dol­lars in gov­ern­ment cash for poor fam­i­lies to help off­set a spike in fuel prices, an of­fi­cial said Mon­day.

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.

Four postal work­ers aboard the plane were es­cort­ing four bags of cash to­tal­ing US$468,750 in gov­ern­ment fuel aid, Fran­cis­cus Hary­ono, the head of the post of­fice in Jaya­pura, the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The ATR42-300 twin tur­bo­prop plane was fly­ing from Jaya­pura to the city of Ok­si­bil when it lost con­tact. Trans­porta­tion Min­istry spokesman Julius Barata said there was no in­di­ca­tion that the pi­lot had made a dis­tress call.

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” Wido- do’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 has al­ready sparked an­gry protests around the coun­try.

Of­fi­cials said three search planes spot­ted the wreck­age about 12 kilo­me­ters (7 miles) from Ok­si­bil. Search and res­cue oper­a­tions in­volv­ing about 10 air­craft were halted Mon­day evening be­cause of dark­ness and would re­sume early Tues­day, said Heron­imus Guru, deputy oper­a­tions di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Search and Res­cue Agency.

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.

“Smoke was still bil­low­ing from the wreck­age when it was spot­ted by a plane search,” said Henry Bam­bang Soelistyo, the chief of the Na­tional Search and Res­cue Agency. He said bad weather and rugged ter­rain were ham­per­ing ef­forts to reach the wreck­age, lo­cated at an al­ti­tude of 2,600 me­ters (about 8,500 feet).

He said elite forces from the air force and army will build a he­li­pad for evac­u­a­tion pur­poses near the crash site. Much of Pa­pua is cov­ered with im­pen­e­tra­ble jun­gles and moun­tains. Some planes that have crashed in the past have never been found.

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

The air­line’s cri­sis cen­ter of­fi­cial in Jaya­pura’s Sen­tani air­port, Bu­diono, said all the pas­sen­gers were In­done­sians.

Bu­diono said the pas­sen­gers 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.

Wi­dodo said in a state­ment that he was call­ing “for a mo­ment of si­lence and pray for the crew and pas­sen­gers ahead of our in­de­pen­dence an­niver­sary.”

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.

Euro­pean plane maker ATR said late Sun­day that it “ac­knowl­edges the re­ported loss of con­tact” with the Tri­g­ana flight “and is stand­ing by to sup­port the rel­e­vant avi­a­tion author­i­ties.” ATR, based in Toulouse, France, makes re­gional planes with 90 seats or less.

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.

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