Tobacco Looted From Downed PNG Airplane Sold

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Products taken as ‘compensation’ for rescuing flight crew

By Dorothy Mark

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Oct. 23, 2013) – Settlers near the Madang airport have reported selling nearly K10,000 [US$3,735] worth of British American Tobacco products in two days after they looted Air Niugini’s ATR Freighter that crashed on Saturday.

Michael Black, a community leader at the nearby Sepik settlement, said youths, at his request, arrived at the scene and helped to rescue three pilots in the aircraft while the plane’s right wing was still on fire in the Meiro River.

"We thought there were more people inside and tried to save them all," Black said.

"We risked our lives in saving the three as the plane was very hot and could have exploded.

He said as result of that, he instructed the youths to remove the contents of the plane.

Cartons of tobacco and cigarettes were looted from the plane and were sold in the streets cheaply – K10 [US$3.74] per packet (K18 [US$6.72] retail) and K30 [US$11.21] per gross.

He said Meiro youths bought new bicycles, clothes and shoes with the money they got from selling the cigarettes.

"We, settlers at Meiro, played an important part in assisting in rescuing the three pilots and we deserve to get whatever was in the plane because I don’t think Air Niugini will compensate us for that," Black said.

He said Kuima Security guards were there when the plane crashed and tried to stop them from getting the contents but the settlers overpowered them, saying they had saved lives and the airline had insurance cover.

Black reported they took the pilots’ caps and identification cards but returned them yesterday.

He said one of the pilots was an Australian while the other two were Scottish.

Guard Dog Security put up a strong defence on the few remaining wet cigarette and tobacco boxes starting on Saturday night.

The plane is still at the crash site in the river.

Air Niugini and British American Tobacco could not be reached yesterday for further comments.

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