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PNG searchers spot missing plane -

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PNG searchers spot missing plane

Papua New Guinea Correspondent Liam Fox reported this story on Wednesday, August 12, 2009 12:10:00

ELEANOR HALL: But we begin today with the plane disaster in Papua New Guinea. This morning
Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith confirmed that the wreckage of the light plane with 13
people onboard, including nine Australians, has been located in rugged terrain.

A Papua New Guinea search and rescue helicopter spotted the plane and police officers are now
attempting to reach the site on foot but local authorities are warning that there is little hope
that anyone survived.

The 13 people were on their way to the Kokoda track. And an Australian Defence Force helicopter
with more police and an Australian doctor on board is now on its way to the crash site.

Joining us now is our Papua New Guinea correspondent, Liam Fox. Liam, just what is the latest news
from the crash site?

LIAM FOX: Well as you mentioned in your intro there, police, PNG police are trying to make their
way to the site. From what we understand it will take about three hours to trek from where they've
been dropped off by helicopter to the actual crash site.

You imagine, it was rugged terrain, that's probably an understatement, it's incredibly rugged
terrain - we're talking very steep hills, thick jungle, it'll be hard, hard work getting to this
crash site.

ELEANOR HALL: And what are the weather conditions there at the moment?

LIAM FOX: From what we understand the weather has been okay this morning, but as we were trying to
charter planes and helicopters to get up there to have a look.

The pilots that we contacted were worried that the weather would change; they say that it often
changes in the afternoon as it appears to have done yesterday. When the plane went missing we've
been told the weather was very bad, low clouds to about 9,000 feet and also heavy rain.

ELEANOR HALL: And you were at the airport in Moresby this morning, what was the scene there?

LIAM FOX: Well we went down to the airport because that's where Airlines PNG's office is located,
and we noticed a large crowd of people gathered outside an aero ambulance. Large crowd, about 150
people, several were wearing t-shirts saying No Roads Expeditions. Now No Roads is the company that
people on board the plane were hoping to travel along the Kokoda track with, they were anxious for
some news and they were crowding around the fence of this aero ambulance establishment.

There was a rumour going through the crowd that the bodies of those on board the plane were being
transported back, but eventually they were shooed away by people within the aero ambulance and they
moved up the road to sit outside Airlines PNG's office, and they're waiting for some sort of
official word.

ELEANOR HALL: And how popular is this flight from Moresby to the Kokoda village?

LIAM FOX: Well it's pretty popular; around 6,000 Australians visit the Kokoda track every year.
It's PNG's number one tourism money spinner. It only recently did it become a regular flight, the
Australian Government has actually subsidising Airlines PNG to conduct a regular route to the
Kokoda villages as part of a development push in the Kokoda area.

ELEANOR HALL: Now Airlines PNG is the airline that is responsible for the flight that crashed,
what's the record of this airline?

LIAM FOX: Well from what aviation sources have told me, Airlines PNG under its operator
certificate, they believe that this is their first crash. But Airlines PNG used to operate as Milne
Bay Air, and from what I've been told they've been involved in a handful of crashes and most of
those did involve fatalities.

But the same could be said about a lot of airlines in PNG - flying can be quite treacherous around
here, and people do say that Airlines PNG is considered to be a good operator.

ELEANOR HALL: And Liam just briefly, has there been any official response from the PNG authorities
there or from the Government?

LIAM FOX: I've just got an email from the Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare's office, he's sent out
a message expressing his condolences and also ordered several ministers to get to work to draw up
an investigation and report back to cabinet.

ELEANOR HALL: Liam Fox our Papua New Guinea correspondent there in Port Moresby.