Aussie tycoon missing in African jungle

2010-06-21 09:34

Australia vowed to leave “no stone unturned” after a plane carrying

Sundance Resources’ entire board, including one of the country’s richest men,

went missing over thick jungle in western Africa.

The iron ore miner halted its African operations and ordered staff

to help frantic search efforts after a twin turboprop plane carrying tycoon Ken

Talbot and 10 other foreign nationals disappeared en route from Cameroon to

Congo.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said: “This is deeply

concerning to all of us. All of our diplomatic and consular resources are being

dedicated to this. We will leave literally no stone unturned in our efforts to

try and help what is a concerning set of developments for these families.”

Ground controllers lost contact with the CASA C-212 charter plane

shortly after it took off from Cameroon’s capital Yaounde on Saturday morning,

bound for the Yangadou mine in northeastern Congo.

Sundance shares went into a trading halt as the firm took emergency

action after the disappearance of all five board members – Talbot, Geoff

Wedlock, Don Lewis, Craig Oliver and John Carr-Greg.

The plane was also carrying a consultant to the company and a

French and British citizen, along with one French and one British pilot,

Sundance said in a statement.

Chief financial officer Peter Canterbury was named acting chief

executive, while the company was forced to appoint temporary advisers to stand

in for the missing board members.

Canterbury said: “At this point in time all of our efforts have

been concentrated to locate the missing aircraft and to support the families of

those on board. This is Sundance Resources’ highest priority. This is a deeply

distressing time for the families of the missing, their friends and work

colleagues.”

The search was due to resume at first light, with Australian,

American and Canadian officials helping the authorities of Cameroon, Gabon and

Congo to comb the hilly, densely wooded border area using four planes and seven

helicopters.

Reports said Talbot, a truck driver’s son, first made his fortune

through a network of pubs before founding successful mining company Macarthur

Coal. However, he left Macarthur over corruption charges and is due to go on

trial in August.

Company chairperson Geoff Wedlock is an ex-head of BHP Billiton’s

iron ore division, while another of the passengers was French national Natasha

Flacon Brian, an executive with Talbot’s resources investment company, Talbot

Group.

Talbot is a non-executive director of Sundance, with estimated

wealth of Aus$965 million (R6.3 billion), according to BRW business magazine’s

latest rich list.

Sundance’s ex-chairman, George Jones, said the board had unusually

shared the same flight as Talbot’s private jet was unable to land at Yangadou’s

short air strip: “It’s unusual for an entire board. It actually breaches

corporate governance and obviously relates to the fact they could only get on

one plane.”

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia’s High Commissioner

to Nigeria had been sent to Cameroon along with two other officials.

Smith said: “Of course it’s a very distressing time for the

families and we continue to be very seriously concerned about the welfare of

these six Australians. It’s difficult terrain, thick jungle or forest. The

search will also of course be subject to weather conditions.”

Asian demand, especially from China, has fuelled a boom in

Australia’s resources sector, easing the country through the financial crisis

and boosting the wealth of the country’s mining elite.


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