Rescue operations were paused at nightfall Monday after a search plane spotted possible debris, torn into a line of trees not far from where the missing flight had been due to land, CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata reports. Bad weather was hampering the operation.
A twin-prop Trigana Air Service plane disappeared Sunday during what was supposed to be a 45-minute flight from Papua's provincial capital Jayapura to the city of Oksibil. Residents believe it crashed into Tangok Mountain in the Bintang Mountain range.
Officials said the wreckage was spotted about 7 miles from Oksibil. Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency, said elite forces from the air force and army would build a helipad for evacuation purposes near the crash site. Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed in the past have never been found.
Although weather may have played a role in the accident, D'Agata reports, Trigana Air Service didn't have a reputation as a safe carrier. Since the airline began operating in 1991, it racked up 14 serious incidents; serious enough, in theory, to crash a plane. It was banned across Europe in 2007, and blacklisted by the United States as well.
This recent crash appeared to be the latest aviation disaster in a country plagued by them, D'Agata says. In June, a military transport plane smashed into a neighborhood in Sumatra just after takeoff, killing 140 people. The December before, an AirAsia passenger plane plunged into the Java Sea, killing all 162 passengers and crew.
"We've seen too many incidents, too many accidents in Indonesia," former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker said. "We need to improve the environment, their infrastructure, their training, their maintenance, their regulatory oversight in order that we improve aviation safety and get it to a level that is comparable to other places in the world."
The Trigana plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew members. Five children, including two infants, were among the passengers. The airline's crisis center official in Jayapura's Sentani airport, Budiono, said all the passengers are Indonesians and there were nine names on the initial passenger manifest that were eventually replaced by other persons - a common practice among small domestic airlines in the country. Budiono also said that among the passengers were 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.
The passenger plane was also carrying nearly half a million dollars in government cash for poor families to help offset a spike in fuel prices, a local postal official said Monday. Four postal workers aboard the plane were escorting four bags of cash totaling $468,750 in government fuel aid money said Haryono, the head of the post office in Jayapura, the provincial capital.