Indonesian plane missing over Papua region

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The missing plane, pictured in 2008 at Labuan Bajo airport on the island of Flores in central IndonesiaImage source, YSSYguy
Image caption,
The missing plane, pictured in 2008

An Indonesian passenger plane with 54 people on board is missing in Papua region, officials have said.

The Trigana Air flight took off from the regional capital Jayapura for Oksibil in the south at 14:21 local time (05:21GMT), but contract was lost.

Villagers from Okbape, around 25km from Oksibil airport, said they saw a low flying aircraft crash into a mountain, according to local police.

Rescue teams will continue their search at first light on Monday morning.

The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was carrying 44 adult passengers, five children and infants, and five crew.

It took off from Sentani airport in Jayapura, but lost contact with ground control half an hour later at 14:55.

Transport ministry spokesman Julius Barata confirmed the disappearance.

Unconfirmed reports suggest weather was the likely cause.

"We are not sure what happened to the plane yet and we are co-ordinating with local authorities," he told AFP news agency.

Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency later said the search had been suspended at nightfall because of limited visibility and would resume at 06:00 local time on Monday (21:00 GMT on Sunday).

Officials later said a second plane had been sent to look for the missing one, but was turned back because of the bad weather.

"Oksibil is a mountainous area where weather is very unpredictable," Trigana Air director of operations Beni Sumaryanto told AFP. "It can suddenly turn foggy, dark and windy without warning.

"We strongly suspect it's a weather issue. It is not overcapacity, as the plane could take 50 passengers."

Trigana Air has had 14 serious incidents since it began operations in 1991, losing 10 aircraft in the process, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

It has been on a European Union blacklist of banned carriers since 2007. All but four of Indonesia's certified airlines are on the list.

Correspondents say Indonesia has a patchy aviation record overall, with two major crashes in the past year.

An Indonesia AirAsia plane crashed in the Java Sea last December while on an international flight from Surabaya to Singapore, killing all 192 people on board.

A military transport plane crashed in a residential area of Medan, Sumatra in July, killing more than 140 people including several on the ground.

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