The Trigana Air flight lost contact with ground control at 2.55pm yesterday local time (5.55am GMT) as it flew from the capital Jayapura to the town of Oksibil.
Indonesia’s transport minister said yesterday that the aircraft had been found in the Bintang highlands region, not far from its intended landing site at Oksibil airport.
It is not yet known if anyone survived. The wreckage was discovered by villagers, who then alerted officials.
“Residents provided information that the aircraft crashed into Tangok mountain,” said the country’s director-general of air transportation, Suprasetyo.
The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was carrying 44 adult passengers, five children and infants, and five crew. 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.
Plans for the aerial search to resume today were called off, and in a statement Indonesia’s transport ministry confirmed that wreckage had been found.
Earlier, news that the ATR 42-300 twin turboprop plane had gone missing was posted to the Twitter account of the state search and rescue agency (BASARNAS).
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. Okbape is about 15 miles west of Oksibil.
A plane was sent yesterday to look for the missing airliner, but the air search was suspended due to darkness and limited visibility. Hours later the wreckage was discovered.
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.
From 2007 to 2009, the European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe because of safety concerns.
Last December, all 162 people aboard an AirAsia jet were killed when the plane plummeted into the Java Sea as it ran into stormy weather on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, to Singapore.
That disaster was one of five suffered by Asian carriers in a 12-month span, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing in March 2014 with 239 people aboard during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.