An Indonesian passenger plane that went missing two days ago was destroyed when it slammed into a mountain, killing all 54 people on board, the country’s top rescue official said, AP reports. Rescuers only reached the crash site Tuesday after being hindered by rugged, forested terrain and bad weather. “The plane was totally destroyed and all the bodies were burned and difficult to identify,” National Search and Rescue Agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo told the Associated Press. “There is no chance anyone survived.”
He said that so far 53 bodies had been recovered, and that they would be taken to Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, so they can be identified. Soelistyo said the plane’s black box has been recovered. The black box contains data on the plane’s operations and may give clues to the exact cause of the crash. Smoldering wreckage of the Trigana Air Service plane was spotted from the air Monday. The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was flying from Jayapura to the city of Oksibil when it lost contact.
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. Soelistyo said the wreckage was at an altitude of about 8,500 feet. Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed in the past have never been found.
The airline’s crisis center official in Jayapura’s Sentani airport, Budiono, said all the passengers were Indonesians, and 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.
Oksibil, about 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. The passengers included four postal workers aboard the plane who were escorting four bags of cash totaling $468,750 in government aid for poor families to help offset a spike in fuel prices, Franciscus Haryono, the head of the post office in Jayapura, told the Associated Press.
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. Indonesia has had a string of airline disasters 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. The carrier has had 19 serious incidents since 1992, resulting in the loss of eight aircraft and major damage to 11 others, according to the Aviation Safety Network’s online database. The airline remains banned from flying to Europe along with other six Indonesian airlines.