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28 die, 4 survive Papua New Guinea plane crash

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea - A plane crashed in stormy weather in Papua New Guinea's remote forests, killing 28 people and leaving only four survivors, officials said Friday.

Two pilots, one Australian and one from New Zealand, were among those who survived Thursday's crash on the South Pacific island nation's northern coast, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.

The Airlines PNG Dash 8 aircraft crashed while flying from Lae to the resort hub of Madang, Papua New Guinea's Accident Investigation Commission spokesman Sid O'Toole said.

The twin-propellor plane crashed 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Madang, he said. Police and ambulances had reached the crash site and investigators were traveling there Friday, he said.

Australian consular officials were also planning to travel to Madang on Friday.

"Initial indications are that there are no Australians amongst those killed," Australia's foreign affairs department said in a statement.

Trevor Hattersley, the Australian High Commission's warden in Madang, said the plane went down during a violent storm in an extremely remote jungle not far from the coast.

"The weather was horrendous," Hattersley told The Associated Press. "There was a huge storm that came through at the same time — big rain, big wind."

Residents of a nearby village rushed to help, pulling people from the wreckage, Hattersley told the AP. The storm had left the lone road from the crash site to Madang flooded, so rescuers had to get the four survivors to the nearest beach and transport them to Madang by boat.

One of the survivors' legs is severely injured, but another survivor is in fairly good shape, Hattersley said. He did not know the conditions of the other two survivors.

Papua New Guinea journalist Scott Waide told Australian Broadcasting Corp. that he had visited the hospital where the survivors were being treated. One of the survivors told a nurse he fled the burning wreckage through a crack in the fuselage, Waide said.

"He told the nurses he was sitting on the seventh seat and the plane broke in half," Waide told ABC. "While struggling to get out, his arms got burned and his back got burned."

In a statement, Airlines PNG said a full investigation was under way into the cause of the accident. The airline said it has temporarily grounded its fleet of 12 Dash 8 aircraft.

Most of the passengers were parents traveling to attend their children's university graduation ceremony in Madang this weekend, according to the Australian Associated Press news agency.

The duty manager at the Madang Resort, Donald Lambert, said six of the plane's occupants, including the crew, had had reservations to stay at his hotel.

"I went to meet them at the airport," he said.