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Bad weather hampered efforts Monday to reach debris in remote eastern Indonesian mountains believed to be from a plane that crashed carrying 54 people and cash worth almost half a million dollars, AFP reports.
More than 250 rescuers had tried to battle through dense forest to reach what is thought to be the wreckage of the Trigana Air plane, which disappeared Sunday during a short flight in Papua province.
The ATR 42-300 twin-turboprop plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew on the journey from Papua’s capital Jayapura to Oksibil, a remote settlement in the mountains to the south.
Also on the plane was Rp 6.5 billion (US$470,000) in cash, which were social assistance funds being transported for distribution to poor families, according to the head of the Jayapura post office. The cash was being carried by four post office officials in bags.
The plane disappeared about 10 minutes before reaching its destination, soon after the crew requested permission to start descending in heavy cloud to land.
A plane Monday spotted debris engulfed in smoke in the mountains near Oksibil and search teams, including soldiers and police, set off in the early hours to reach the site, which is at an altitude of 2,500 meters.
But thick fog, which reduced visibility to one meter, and rain hindered the bid to reach the crash site, the head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency Bambang Soelistyo said.
Efforts to reach the location, about 15 kilometers from Oksibil, were called off for the day at 5:30 pm (0830 GMT) and would resume Tuesday, he added.
A photo of the suspected site showed an area that appeared to be fire-blackened and scattered with debris in thick forest, and Soelistyo said he was “98 percent” certain it was the location of the crash.
He said the chance of any survivors was “very slim”. All those on the plane were believed to be Indonesians.
Relatives of passengers were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of hard news.
Some shouted “We want confirmation!” and threw a table at a crisis center set up by Trigana Air at Jayapura airport.
“My family and I have been gathered here for hours. We want to know the fate of my brother, Kepi Deal, who was on board the plane,” Rifan Wea, one of about 100 relatives at the airport, said.
“We want to know whether he is dead or alive.”
Crash leaves thousands without welfare aid
Around 6,000 low-income residents in Pegunungan Bintang regency have missed out on Prosperous Family Savings Program (PSKS) funds following the plane crash, Jakarta Post reports.
Jayapura Post Office head Haryono said the Rp 6.5 billion from the Social Affairs Ministry was to be distributed to 6,000 low-income residents in eight districts across Pegunungan Bintang regency.
The funds were being transported by four Jayapura Post Office personnel who were traveling on the Trigana aircraft. The four post officers on the flight were Agustinus Luarmase, MN Aragay, Teguh Warisman Sani and Yustinus Hurulean.
It was planned that they would distribute the PSKS funds to 6,000 people representing families targeted by the benefits program. Initially, the funds were to be handed over symbolically to Pegunungan Bintang regent Wellinton Wenda during a ceremony to celebrate the 70th Indonesian Independence Day in Oksibil Monday.
Of the four post officers, only Teguh was not listed on Trigana’s passenger log. “Pak Tegus was not on the flight booking list because he replaced Pak Dewa Putu Raka, who cancelled his trip due to a family event,” he said.
The money was packed in four bags. “We had reported to both Pegunungan Bintang administration and the Pegunungan Bintang Police that there was that amount of money on the plane,” he said.
Head of state-owned postal firm PT Pos Indonesia’s regional division XI for Papua and West Papua, Agus Budi Satrio, said it was necessary to bring such a huge amount of money to Oksibil in cash.
“We have always brought cash to Oksibil because there is simply not that amount of cash available in the area,” he said.
Adi Kadi, head of Trigana’s cargo division at Sentani Airport, Jayapura, said the airline was not aware that there was Rp 6.5 billion in cash on the ill-fated aircraft.
“We didn’t know that there was such a huge amount of money on the plane. It should have been reported to Trigana. Moreover, [the money] belonged to the state. Therefore, this is not our responsibility,” said Adi.