An Indonesian airliner carrying 54 people went missing on Sunday after losing contact with ground control during a short flight in bad weather in the country's mountainous easternmost province of Papua, officials said.
Local villagers told authorities that they saw a plane crash into a mountain, and scores of rescuers were heading to the remote area and will begin searching there at daybreak on Monday. An air search for the missing plane was suspended and will resume on Monday as well.
The Trigana Air Service plane was flying from Papua's provincial capital, Jayapura, to the Papua city of Oksibil when it lost contact with Oksibil's airport, said Transportation Ministry spokesman Julius Barata. There was no indication that the pilot had made a distress call, he said.
The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew members on the scheduled 42-minute journey, Barata said. Five children, including three infants, were among the passengers.
The weather was poor near Oksibil, with heavy rain, strong winds and fog, when the plane lost contact with the airport minutes before it was scheduled to land, said Susanto, the head of Papua's search and rescue agency.
Residents of Okbape village in Papua's Bintang district told local police that they saw a plane flying low before crashing into a mountain, said Susanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. He said about 150 rescuers were heading to the area, which is known for its dense forest and steep cliffs, and would begin searching for the plane early on Monday.
Okbape is about 24 kilometers west of Oksibil.
A plane was sent on Sunday to look for the missing airliner, but the air search was suspended due to darkness and limited visibility and will resume on Monday morning, Susanto said.
Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed there in the past have never been found.
Dudi Sudibyo, an aviation analyst, said that Papua is a particularly dangerous place to fly because of its mountainous terrain and rapidly changing weather patterns. "I can say that a pilot who is capable of flying there will be able to fly an aircraft in any part of the world," he said.
Indonesia has had its share of airline woes in recent years. The sprawling archipelago nation of 250 million people and some 17,000 islands is one of Asia's most rapidly expanding airline markets, but is struggling to provide enough qualified pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and updated airport technology to ensure safety.