MAKASSAR, Indonesia – Rugged terrain and bad weather have hampered the search Saturday for a small passenger plane that went missing with 10 people on board in eastern Indonesia, officials said. The search was halted at dusk and would resume Sunday.
The DHC-6 Twin Otter plane lost contact with air traffic controllers 11 minutes after taking off in good weather Friday from Masamba in South Sulawesi province, said Transportation Ministry spokesman Julius Barata. No distress signal was received.
The plane, owned by the private Aviastar Mandiri airline, was headed for Makassar, the provincial capital. It was carrying three crew members and seven passengers, including three children, Barata said.
"Our search and rescue operation today failed," said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, who heads Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency. "Until now we have not yet been able to find out the approximate location of the crash."
He added that mountainous terrain and steep cliffs along with fog have hampered search efforts from the air and ground.
The search was halted due to darkness and would be resumed Sunday covering a wider area than Saturday's search which was only focusing on a 15-mile (24-kilometer) radius from where it last made contact, he said.
Ahmad Munir, head of the airport authority in Makassar, said satellite data showed the aircraft's last known position was about 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Masamba.
Petrus Budi Prasetyo, commercial general manager for the airline, said earlier that the company has dispatched a Twin Otter and a helicopter to comb the area, along with an aircraft each from the military and police.
The Ministry of Transportation ordered the airliner to halt commercial operations of its Twin Otter turboprop planes for examination. According to its website, the domestic airliner operates four Twin Otters.
The 1981 Canadian-made plane joined Aviastar last January and underwent its most recent maintenance on Sept. 15, Petrus said.
Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago nation of about 250 million people, has been plagued by transportation accidents in recent years, including plane and train crashes and ferry sinkings. It is one of Asia's most rapidly expanding airline markets, but is struggling to obtain qualified pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and modern airport technology.