Rescuers finally reached the debris of the Trigana Air plane, which went down Sunday during a short flight in bad weather, after being forced to abandon search efforts a day earlier due to the mountainous terrain and bad weather.
“The plane has crashed, it is completely destroyed,” search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo said of the ATR 42-300 after rescue teams reached the site in Papua province at 9.30am (0030 GMT).
“Everything was in pieces and part of the plane is burnt. We could see burn marks on some pieces.”
The disaster is just the latest air accident in Indonesia, which has a poor aviation safety record and has suffered major disasters in recent months, including the crash of an AirAsia plane in December with the loss of 162 lives.
Photos of the site showed a fire-blackened clearing in thick jungle strewn with debris. The twin-turboprop plane was carrying 54 people – 49 passengers and five crew – and officials said all the bodies had been found among the wreckage.
Some bodies were not intact, and others were badly burnt.
The plane’s “black boxes”, consisting of a flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, were also found, the transport ministry said. The devices should provide clues about what caused the crash, which officials believe was likely due to the weather.
The harsh conditions meant authorities were planning to lift the bodies from the site by helicopter, the search and rescue agency said.
“The challenge is the weather, it changes from good to bad very fast and it’s very cold now,” Captain Beni Sumaryanto, Trigana Air’s service director of operations, told Agence France-Presse.
Officials said there was no immediate news on the fate of 6.5-billion rupiah ($470 000) that were being transported by the plane in cash, intended for distribution to poor families as social assistance funds.
A team of about 100 rescuers, including personnel from the military, police and search and rescue agency, were at the crash site, the transport ministry said.
Thick fog and rain had hampered attempts by more than 250 rescuers and 11 aircraft to reach the wreckage on Monday.
The plane had set off from Papua’s capital Jayapura on what was supposed to be a 45-minute flight to Oksibil, a remote settlement in the mountains.
But it lost contact with air traffic control about 10 minutes before reaching its destination, soon after the crew requested permission to start descending in heavy cloud and rain to land.
Trigana Air’s Sumaryanto said “unpredictable weather and mountainous terrain” had likely caused the accident, adding that the plane was in good condition and the pilot experienced.
Small aircraft are commonly used for transport in remote and mountainous Papua and bad weather has caused several accidents in recent years.
Last week a Cessna propeller plane crashed in Papua’s Yahukimo district, killing one person and seriously injuring the five others on board. Officials suspect that crash was also caused by bad weather.
Trigana Air, a small domestic Indonesian airline, has experienced a string of serious incidents and is banned from flying in European Union airspace.
Last year’s AirAsia crash was one of two major air accidents that Indonesia has suffered in the past year alone.
In June, an Indonesian military plane crashed into a residential neighbourhood in the city of Medan, exploding in a fireball and killing 142 people.
The aviation sector in Indonesia is expanding fast but airlines are struggling to find enough well-trained personnel to keep up with the rapid growth in the archipelago of more than 17 000 islands. – AFP