The wreckage of a Trigana Air Service plane crash was spotted in the mountains of Papua province in eastern Indonesia on Monday. The Trigana flight, with 54 people on board, is believed to have crashed on Sunday. At this time, officials do not believe there were any survivors.
Villagers in a remote part of Papua province said they saw the ATR42-300 turboprop airplane operated by Trigana Air Service crash into a mountainside. Of the 54 on the flight, there were 44 adult passengers, five children, and a five-member crew. All 54 were Indonesian citizens.
The Trigana Air Service flight was supposed to be a short one, carrying passengers from Sentani Airport in Jayapura (the capitol of Papua) to Oksibil. All told, the flight should have taken less than an hour.
Various media outlets have reported that four postal workers were on the flight escorting bags of money totaling roughly $468,750. The government cash was to be distributed to poor families in remote areas of the country to offset a spike in fuel prices. Last year, Indonesia President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration raised fuel prices and cut government subsidies, which was designed to save the country billions. But the move has sparked outrage, as protests around the country have become commonplace.
President Widodo took to Twitter today to express his condolences to the victims and their families. He called for the country to "pray together."
What Happened to the Ill-Fated Trigana Flight?
The Trigana Air Service airplane departed from Sentani Airport at 2:22 p.m. Weather at the time of take off was clear, but meteorologists say there were some thunderstorms in the flight path, particularly over a mountainous region. Authorities have indicated that air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at around 2:55 p.m. No distress call came from the flight deck prior to the crash.
There could be a number of reasons why the pilots didn't enter a distress call. One running theory is that the flight crew were too busy in maneuvering the plane through bad weather to issue a distress call to air traffic controllers. Another theory is that the pilots simply didn't feel that they were in danger.
The terrain where the wreckage was spotted on Monday is challenging, as there are many steep slopes. When you consider the terrain, plus the unpredictable nature of weather in the area, flying can be very challenging.
What Happens Next in the Trigana Crash Investigation?
The chief of Indonesia's national search and rescue agency has told media outlets that officials spotted the downed airplane from the air on Monday with smoke still billowing from the wreckage. Thus far, searchers have had a difficult time accessing the crash site, due to bad weather and rugged terrain. Two ground teams sent to the area called off a search today because weather made it all but impossible to reach the site of the wreckage, which is at an estimated altitude of 8,500 feet.
According to CNN, the search teams are using a helicopter from mining company Freeport-McMoRan. The chopper can use hoists and long rope to lower emergency response team members down to the crash site. The teams plans to resume their search and investigation on Tuesday, when weather conditions are supposed to be more favorable.
A preliminary report on the tragedy should be issued within the next couple of weeks.
Trigana Air Service - A History of Air Accidents
Founded in 1991, Trigana Air Service has headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia. The airline provides service to 21 destinations throughout Indonesia and has a fleet of 22 aircraft.
Prior to yesterday's crash, Trigana had been involved in 19 aviation accidents since the airline was founded. Eight of those accidents resulted in the loss of an aircraft. According to Flight Global, Trigana aviation accidents have resulted in 14 passenger deaths and nine crew member deaths.
The worst Trigana plane crash occurred on November 17, 2006 when a DHC-6 Twin Otter collided with the side of Mt. Gergaji. Nine passengers and three crew members lost their lives in that fatal crash.
The most recent prior Trigana crash happened in January of this year. The flight crew lost control of another DHC-6 Twin Otter during landing at Enarotali airport in Papua. While the aviation accident did not result in fatalities or injuries, the plane blew past the runway and caused damage to the nose of the aircraft.
Sunday's crash is also not the first time that Trigana has had issues with an ATR 42-300. On February 11, 2010, the pilots of an ATR 42-300 approaching Samarinda reported a problem with the plane's left engine. They stated that their intention was to make an emergency landing in Balikpapan, but roughly 10 minutes later, the plane's other engine failed. The pilots had no choice but to initiate an emergency landing at a field.
Luckily, only one injury was reported in the February 2010 Trigana accident, but the ATR 42-300 plane was "written off."
Trigana Air Service on Europe's Blacklist
Trigana is one of a number of airlines that is forbidden from flying in European airspace. According to the European Commission, Trigana is banned because it has been "found to be unsafe" and/or the airline is "not sufficiently overseen" by its authorities. The Indonesian airline has been banned since 2007, according to multiple reports. Only four airlines in Indonesia are actually allowed to fly in Europe.
Third Serious Plane Crash in Indonesia Since December 2014
Including yesterday's Trigana crash, Indonesia has seen three fatal plane crashes over the last nine months. Indonesia has a terrible flight safety record, according to Arnold Barnett, an MIT statistician that specializes in airline safety. The death rate in Indonesia plane crashes over the past decade was one in every million passengers, which is 25 times higher than the U.S. rate.
December 28, 2014 - AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 people on board (155 passengers and seven crew members). The crash was the second deadliest to occur in Indonesian territory. QZ8501 was an international passenger flight taking passengers from Surbaya, Indonesia to Singapore.
The Airbus A320-216 plane crashed amid bad weather. According to investigators, the pilots of the plane entered a steep climb (roughly twice the maximum rate that a commercial aircraft should climb). This caused the plane to enter into a stall from which the flight crew could not recover.
The cockpit voice recorder captured multiple warnings, including a stall warning, prior to the crash. Air traffic controllers received no distress call prior to the tragedy.
June 30, 2015 - An Indonesian Air Force plane crashed shortly after taking off from an airport in Medan, Indonesia, killing all 135 people on the plane. Authorities said the transport plane was carrying military officials and civilians.
Civilians are occasionally permitted to buy seats on military aircraft in order to get to Indonesian island destinations that are difficult to travel to. The crash involved a 50-year-old Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport plane.
The Jakarta Post headline on the fatal plane crash read: "Aging Fleet Again Takes its Toll."