Indonesian plane debris seen; carried 54 people, gov't cash

Crashed Indonesian Plane Was Carrying $470K In Cash

JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) -- An airplane with 54 people on board that crashed in the mountains of eastern Indonesia was carrying nearly half a million dollars in government cash for poor families to help offset a spike in fuel prices, an official said Monday.

Smoldering wreckage of the Trigana Air Service turboprop plane was spotted from the air Monday morning in a rugged area of the easternmost province of Papua, rescue officials said. There was no immediate word of any survivors from Sunday's crash, which happened in bad weather.

See photos from the air disaster:

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Indonesia plane crashes, 54 aboard
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Indonesian plane debris seen; carried 54 people, gov't cash
Indonesian rescuers search through wreckage of the Trigana Air ATR 42-300 twin-turboprop plane at the crash site in the mountainous area of Oksibil on August 18, 2015. A plane that crashed in eastern Indonesia was found on August 18 'completely destroyed' with the bodies of all 54 passengers and crew strewn amid the wreckage in a fire-blackened jungle clearing, officials said. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Indonesian rescuers hold wreckage fragments from the Trigana Air ATR 42-300 twin-turboprop plane from the crash site in the mountainous area of Oksibil on August 18, 2015. A plane that crashed in eastern Indonesia was found on August 18 'completely destroyed' with the bodies of all 54 passengers and crew strewn amid the wreckage in a fire-blackened jungle clearing, officials said. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - AUGUST 17: Operational Deputy of Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) Heronimus Guru speaks about Trigana Air ATR 42 plane shortly during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, 17 August 2015. Searchers spotted what was believed to be the wreckage of a plane that went missing with 54 people on board in Indonesia's remote Papua province. The ATR 42 operated by Trigana Air disappeared from the radar on 16 August, just 10 minutes before its scheduled arrival at Oksibil in the mountainous Pegunungan Bintang district. (Photo by Wawan Kurniawan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - AUGUST 17: Operational Deputy of Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) Heronimus Guru shows a picture of the suspected crash site of a Trigana Air ATR 42 plane shortly after a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, on August 17, 2015. Searchers spotted what was believed to be the wreckage of a plane that went missing with 54 people on board in Indonesia's remote Papua province. The ATR 42 operated by Trigana Air disappeared from the radar on 16 August, just 10 minutes before its scheduled arrival at Oksibil in the mountainous Pegunungan Bintang district. (Photo by Wawan Kurniawan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - AUGUST 16: Indonesia's Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan (L2) speaks during a press conference in Jakarta on August 16, 2015, announcing that a missing plane carrying 54 people crashed into a mountain in eastern Indonesian province of Papua. Indonesian authorities say a plane that went missing earlier Sunday with 54 passengers on board has been found after it crashed into mountains in eastern Papua. (Photo by Wawan Kurniawan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Indonesian relatives submit information to police forensic personnel at a crisis center set up in Jayapura on August 17, 2015 following the crash of a Trigana Air ATR 42-300 twin-turboprop plane the day before. Rescuers raced on August 17 to reach debris in remote eastern Indonesian mountains believed to be from the plane that crashed carrying 54 people and cash worth almost half a million USD. AFP PHOTO / BIMA SAKTI (Photo credit should read BIMA SAKTI/AFP/Getty Images)
JAYAPURA, INDONESIA - AUGUST 17 : Relatives of passengers onboard the missing Trigana Air plane wait for news search at crisis centre in Sentani Airport, Jayapura, Indonesia, on August 17, 2015. Trigana ATR 42 aircraft carrying 54 peoples, lost contact with air traffic control after taking off from, Papua, Indonesia's eastern province. (Photo by Sakhiy Rifano/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - AUGUST 16: Indonesia's Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan (L) speaks during a press conference in Jakarta on August 16, 2015, announcing that a missing plane carrying 54 people crashed into a mountain in eastern Indonesian province of Papua. Indonesian authorities say a plane that went missing earlier Sunday with 54 passengers on board has been found after it crashed into mountains in eastern Papua. (Photo by Wawan Kurniawan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Four postal workers aboard the plane were escorting four bags of cash totaling $468,750 in government fuel aid, Franciscus Haryono, the head of the post office in Jayapura, the provincial capital, told The Associated Press.

The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was flying from Jayapura to the city of Oksibil when it lost contact. Transportation Ministry spokesman Julius Barata said there was no indication that the pilot had made a distress call.

Take a look at the plane involved in the accident:

The cash from the Social Affairs Ministry was to be distributed among poor people in remote areas to cushion the jump in fuel costs, Haryono said.

"They were carrying those bags (of cash) to be handed out to poor people in Oksibil through a post office there," Haryono said.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration raised fuel prices late last year and slashed government subsidies, a move the government says will save the country billions of dollars but has already sparked angry protests around the country.

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Officials said three search planes spotted the wreckage about 12 kilometers (7 miles) from Oksibil. Search and rescue operations involving about 10 aircraft were halted Monday evening because of darkness and would resume early Tuesday, said Heronimus Guru, deputy operations director of the National Search and Rescue Agency.

The plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew members on a scheduled 42-minute flight. Five children, including two infants, were among the passengers.

"Smoke was still billowing from the wreckage when it was spotted by a plane search," said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency. He said bad weather and rugged terrain were hampering efforts to reach the wreckage, located at an altitude of 2,600 meters (about 8,500 feet).

He said elite forces from the air force and army will build a helipad for evacuation purposes near the crash site. Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed in the past have never been found.

Search planes went into the air early Monday after residents of a village not far from Oksibil told police that they saw a plane flying low before crashing into a mountain, said Ludiyanto, who heads the search and rescue operation from Jayapura, and like many Indonesians uses only one name.

The airline's crisis center official in Jayapura's Sentani airport, Budiono, said all the passengers were Indonesians.

Budiono said the passengers included three local government officials and two members of the local parliament who were to attend a ceremony Monday in Oksibil marking the 70th anniversary of Indonesia's independence from Dutch colonial rule.

Widodo said in a statement that he was calling "for a moment of silence and pray for the crew and passengers ahead of our independence anniversary."

He later told reporters that he has instructed the transportation ministry to improve aviation safety to prevent future crashes.

Oksibil, about 280 kilometers (175 miles) south of Jayapura, was experiencing heavy rain, strong winds and fog when the plane lost contact with the airport minutes before it was scheduled to land.

European plane maker ATR said late Sunday that it "acknowledges the reported loss of contact" with the Trigana flight "and is standing by to support the relevant aviation authorities." ATR, based in Toulouse, France, makes regional planes with 90 seats or less.

Indonesia has had a string of airline tragedies in recent years. In December, all 162 people aboard an AirAsia jet were killed when the plane plummeted into the Java Sea as it flew through stormy weather on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, to Singapore.

The sprawling archipelago nation of 250 million people and some 17,000 islands is one of Asia's most rapidly expanding airline markets, but it 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.

Trigana Air Service, which began operations in 1991, had 22 aircraft as of December 2013 and flies to 21 destinations in Indonesia. The carrier has had 19 serious incidents since 1992, resulting in the loss of eight aircraft and major damage to 11 others, according to the Aviation Safety Network's online database.

The airline remains banned from flying to Europe along with other six Indonesian airlines.

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