Indonesia official: Missing plane ‘totally destroyed’

Alfian Kartono
Associated Press

Jayapura, Indonesia — An Indonesian official says that rescuers have managed to reach the crash site of an Indonesian plane that went missing two days ago with 54 people on board and that there were no survivors.

“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 early Tuesday. “There is no chance anyone survived.”

He said that 38 bodies had been recovered.

The airplane crashed in bad weather in the mountains of eastern Indonesia carrying nearly half a million dollars in government cash for poor families to help offset a spike in fuel prices, an official said Monday.

Smoldering wreckage of the Trigana Air Service turboprop plane was spotted from the air Monday morning in a rugged area of the easternmost province of Papua, rescue officials said. There was no immediate word of any survivors from Sunday’s crash, which happened in bad weather.

Four postal workers aboard the plane were escorting four bags of cash totaling $468,750 in government fuel aid, Franciscus Haryono, the head of the post office in Jayapura, the provincial capital, told the Associated Press.

The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was flying from Jayapura to the city of Oksibil when it lost contact. Transportation Ministry spokesman Julius Barata said there was no indication that the pilot had made a distress call.

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.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration raised fuel prices late last year and slashed government subsidies, a move the government says will save the country billions of dollars but has already sparked angry protests around the country.

Officials said three search planes spotted the wreckage about 7 miles from Oksibil. Search and rescue operations involving about 10 aircraft were halted Monday evening because of darkness and would resume early Tuesday, said Heronimus Guru, deputy operations director of the National Search and Rescue Agency.

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.

“Smoke was still billowing from the wreckage when it was spotted by a plane search,” said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency. He said bad weather and rugged terrain were hampering efforts to reach the wreckage, located at an altitude of about 8,500 feet.

He said elite forces from the air force and army will 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.