Fifty-four people, including five children, were aboard an aircraft that went missing during a brief flight in eastern Indonesia on Sunday, according to reports.
The Trigana Air Service plane lost contact with officials on the ground in Oksibil, where it was expected to land, Transportation Ministry spokesman Julius Barata told the Associated Press.
The ATR 42-300 turboprop plane had departed from Jayapura on Sunday afternoon, Agence France-Presse reported. In addition to the children and 44 adult passengers, it carried five crew members.
“We are not sure what happened to the plane yet, and we are coordinating with local authorities,” Barata told AFP. “The weather is currently very bad there. It’s very dark and cloudy. It’s not conducive for a search. The area is mountainous.”
“The plane has been found (by villagers). According to residents, the flight had crashed into a mountain. Verification is still in process,” the transport ministry’s director-general of air transportation told AFP.
At a Sunday night news conference, officials told reporters that they wouldn’t have more information until crews arrived on the scene, according to the Associated Press.
Oksibil is a short flight from Jayapura, the capital of Papua province in Indonesia. (Jayapura is 13 hours ahead of Washington.) It appears that no distress call was logged before the airliner went missing, reports indicate.
According to the Associated Press:
Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed there in the past 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.
“Oksibil is a mountainous area where weather is very unpredictable,” Beni Sumaryanto, Trigana Air’s director of operations, told AFP. “It can suddenly turn foggy, dark and windy without warning.
“We strongly suspect it’s a weather issue. It is not overcapacity, as the plane could take 50 passengers.”
[This post has been updated.]