A search team spotted the wreckage of an airliner on Monday after vanishing Sunday in a remote region of Indonesia which carried 54 people. Officials involved in the lengthy search reported that the wreckage was spotted near its destination. Henry Bambang Soelistyo, 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. Indonesian Air Transportation Director General Suprasetyo said the plane was found Sunday by villagers who said it crashed into a mountain in Papua, the nation’s largest and most eastern province.
The flight took off from Sentani Airport in Papua’s provincial capital of Jayapura after 2 p.m. local time (1 a.m. ET) en route to the city of Oksibil. Jayapura is about 175 miles from Oksibil, and the flight should have lasted less than an hour. There were conflicting reports over when and how the plane last contact, in fact. One BASARNAS official told NBC News that the airliner lost contact at 2:55 p.m. — before it was due to arrive.
Heavy rain, high winds and some fog were reported in the area around the time the plane disappeared. Papua is home to miles-high mountains, sheer cliffs and dense rain forests. The National Search and Rescue Agency tweeted on Sunday saying the search was suspended because of limited visibility and will resume early Monday. Trigana, one of many Indonesian airlines banned from flying to Europe because of safety concerns, is a local airline founded in 1991. It has had 14 “accidents and incidents” since 1992, according to the Aviation Safety Network database.
“It’s mountainous, very remote and the airfield runways are sometimes on the side of a hill, so it is not really an area for the faint-hearted to fly,” aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman told The Guardian. “There are bound to be accidents.” In June, more than 100 people died when a military plane crashed into a residential neighborhood in Medan, Indonesia’s third-largest city. In December, an AirAsia plane crashed in the Java Sea en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore, killing all 162 people aboard.
The AirAsia flight led to Indonesia to impose new regulations aimed at improving safety. the world’s fourth-largest country by population, has seen rapid growth in the aviation industry. But the industry has struggled to provide enough pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and updated airport technology to ensure safety. The plane’s manufacturer, ATR, said in a statement that the company was “standing by” to assist in the investigation.