Indonesian airliner carrying 54 goes missing over Papua

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — An Indonesian airliner carrying 54 people was missing Sunday after losing contact with ground control during a short flight in bad weather in the country’s mountainous easternmost province of Papua, officials said. A search for the plane was suspended and will resume Monday morning.

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

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

The weather was poor near Oksibil, with 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 Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency.

A plane was sent to look for the missing airliner, but the search was later suspended due to darkness and bad weather, said Susanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. The search operation will continue Monday morning, he said.

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

Indonesia has had its share of airline woes in recent years. The sprawling archipelago nation of 250 million people and some 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.

Last 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.

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Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report.

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