WAMENA AIRPORT IN PAPUA REMAINS CLOSED AFTER RUSSIAN CARGO PLANE CRASH

By R. K. Nugroho

JAYAPURA, Papua, Indonesia (April 23, 2002 - The Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---An airfield in the remote Papuan town of Wamena remained closed to larger aircraft on Monday following the crash of a chartered cargo plane there earlier on Sunday, local officials said.

"Only small planes like Cessnas and Twins can land here," an airport official in Wamena told The Jakarta Post.

He said at least two 27-seat Fokker aircraft belonging to PT Trigana Air Service had to cancel their flights from Sentani airport in Jayapura to Wamena.

It was not clear when large cargo and passenger planes would be allowed to resume landing at the airport.

Local airport authorities decided to temporarily close the Wamena airfield after a chartered cargo aircraft leased by Trigana crashed when one of its front tires suddenly exploded.

The damaged plane was still sitting on the airport runway on Monday evening. The local authorities were striving to remove it from the airfield.

The Russian-made aircraft (Antonov), piloted by Nicolay Vassilijev, was carrying seven tons of mixed cargo, including six tons of rice belonging to the Wamena logistics agency (Dolog), from Sentani airport.

There were no reports of fatalities as a result of the accident.

Airport officials said the pilot, co-pilot Vladimir Pedveley, two crewmembers and a 13-year-old child, identified as Rindra, were able to escape before a fire gutted the aircraft's cabin.

The plane, with registration number FA 1328/0703/02, crash landed during normal and clear weather conditions, they said.

Mulyato, one of the officials, said a fire fighting team managed to put out the blaze 30 minutes after arriving at the scene from Jayawijaya regency.

However, a source said the fire fighters only arrived one hour after the accident.

"Serious damage to the aircraft could have been prevented if the fire fighting team had come earlier," the source, who refused to be identified, told Antara.

According to Mulyato, the pilot had contacted Wamena airfield's control tower and told them that there was no sign of trouble with the aircraft.

However, "When touching down, one of the tires of the aircraft's front landing gear blew up, forcing it to make a belly-landing,"

Mulyato said.

Fire then emerged from the front undercarriage and later spread to other parts of the aircraft, he explained

More than a half of the plane's fuselage was destroyed by the fire.

Local Dolog official Abdul Hamid said on Monday that all six tons of rice were likely to have been destroyed in the crash, adding that he could not specify the amount of the losses incurred by his agency as a result of the accident.

KABAR-IRIAN ("Irian News") Websites: http://www.irja.org/index2.shtml and http://www.kabar-irian.com 

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