Indonesian authorities have suspended a land and air search for a Merpati Nusantara flight that lost contact with air traffic controllers Sunday morning over the rugged Papua forest in eastern Indonesia until Monday.
The DeHavilland DHC6 Twin Otter aircraft was on a scheduled flight from Sentani, a major airport in Papua, to the Papuan town of Oksibil, when contact was lost about 40 minutes into the 50 minute flight.
Captain Nikmatullah, director of operations for Merpati Nusantara, who like many Indonesians uses just one name, said the flight was carrying 13 passengers, including two babies, and a crew of three.
Indonesian Transportation Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan said contact with the aircraft was lost while it was flying at a height of 9,500 feet (2,895 meters) over the heavily forested Papuan terrain.
Indonesia, a country comprised of more than 18,000 islands, relies heavily on air and sea transport and has seen a number of air crashes in recent years.
Travel by aircraft is the only way to travel around Papua, much of which is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. In the past, crashed planes there have never been found.
Two weeks ago, the European Union (EU) took four Indonesian airlines – Garuda, Mandala Airlines, Airfast Indonesia and Premiair – off its list of carriers banned from entering its airspace, citing “considerable improvements”.
However, all other Indonesian airlines, including Merpati Nusantara, remain on the list.
Indonesian Police and the military will join the search at first light Monday, with the air search being hampered by poor weather conditions in the region.
Feature photo Piergiuliano Chesi
He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.
He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.
In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.
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