Plane carrying 16 goes missing in Indonesia: officials

JAKARTA, Aug 2, 2009 (AFP) - A plane carrying 16 people went missing in a mountainous area of Indonesia's restive Papua province on Sunday, officials said.

The Merpati Airlines plane carrying 13 passengers and three crew was flying from Jayapura to Oksibil town when it lost contact with air traffic control, transport safety chief Herry Bhakti Singayuda told AFP.

"We're still trying to locate it," he said.

Pegunungan Bintang district transport head Dumaroni suggested that weather may have been a factor, adding that everyone on board the plane was Indonesian.

"To get to Oksibil, the plane has to pass mountains and the weather is always changing... it can just turn cloudy anytime," he told AFP.

Dumaroni said the plane went missing at 10:28 (0128 GMT).

"It left Sentani airport (in Jayapura) at 10:15 am and was supposed to arrive at Oksibil at 11:05 am but lost contact at 10:28 am. Until now, it hasn't arrived in Oksibil," he said.

Search operations had been delayed due to bad weather, Jayapura airport spokesman Suharno said.

"The search and rescue team went to Oksibil at 3:30 pm (0630 GMT) but the weather was bad... it was raining and foggy and had to be called off but will resume tomorrow morning," he added.

Indonesia, which relies heavily on air links across the archipelago, has one of Asia's worst air safety records.

The European Union banned all Indonesian-registered aircraft from flying over its airspace in June 2007, acting on a report from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which criticised the country's safety standards.

The European Commission last month had taken Garuda Airlines and three other Indonesian carriers off its aviation blacklist after air transport authorities addressed safety concerns.

Source: AFP

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