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Plane with 13 lost in Papua New Guinea

Canberra, August 11, 2009

A passenger plane with 13 people on board disappeared over dense jungle in the South Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea on Tuesday, the airline and Australian officials said.

Airlines PNG, in a statement quoted by the Australian Broadcasting Corp., said the De Havilland Twin Otter 300 with 11 passengers and two crew had gone missing on a flight from the capital Port Moresby to the tourist destination of Kokoda.

"The last communication from the missing aircraft was received as it approached Kokoda and an extensive search and rescue mission was activated after it failed to land," ABC quoted the statement as saying.

An Australian tour company said eight Australian tourists and a tour guide were on the plane, along with a local tour guide.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said one Japanese citizen and three Papua New Guineans were also aboard. He said the aircraft had an emergency locator beacon, but no signal had been received.

Two helicopters and a fixed-wing aircraft combed the area and nearby airfields on Tuesday, but the search was hampered by low visibility and heavy cloud cover over rugged terrain.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke to his PNG opposite number, Michael Somare and offered to send three military helicopters and three more planes to join rescue efforts on Wednesday.

"Local search and rescue has already begun. However, the aircraft is believed to have been lost in extremely dense and rugged terrain and weather conditions are extremely poor," Defence Minister John Faulker said.

Aviation is hazardous in Papua New Guinea due to rugged, high mountains covered in thick jungle and rapidly changing weather conditions.

Smith said PNG authorities had narrowed the search zone and  were relying on information received from villagers.

Airlines PNG, listed on the PNG stock exchange, operates to domestic destinations and to northern Australia. The company's Website said it eight Twin Otters in its fleet.

Australian tourists visit Kokoda to walk the Kokoda Track, where during World War Two Australian forces halted a Japanese troop advance on Port Moresby. - Reuters




Tags: Papua New Guinea | plane |

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