SMS sent from doomed plane

2012-04-26 14:19
Jakarta - The South African pilot and his Australian passenger who were killed when their Susi Air plane crashed in central Indonesia have been named.

They were the only people on board the Pilatus PC-6 aircraft, which was carrying the Australian photographer on a chartered flight, the airline's operations director Christian Strombeck told AFP on Thursday.

The airline identified the pilot as Jonathan James Willis, 28, and Indonesian officials identified the passenger as Ian McDougall. The Australian government said he was 57.

"The plane crashed Wednesday at around 17:30 local time (09:30 GMT), and the bodies were found at around 01:30 Thursday," he said. Another official had initially said the plane crashed at 01:30.

"The Pilatus PC-6 aircraft was flying in East Kalimantan to do some aerial photography when it crashed," Strombeck added.

Last text message

"The passenger in the airplane sent a text message to his office in Jakarta, more or less saying 'there is a fuel problem, we will try to make an emergency landing on a village road'," Strombeck said.

"We estimate that the plane crashed two or three minutes after they sent the message," he said.

The plane crashed about 30km from the remote village of Muara Ritan in Kutai Kartanegara district on the island of Borneo, according to the airline and government officials.

"The aircraft crashed at the edge of a ravine," said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesperson for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

The airline said it was investigating the crash and grounding its six remaining single-engine Pilatus aircraft until further notice.

"We still don't know how it could have been a fuel problem. The fuel tank was full and it was supposed to last for seven hours. We don't want to speculate at this point," Strombeck said, adding the plane had flown for five hours.

Susi Air is a small domestic airline that operates mostly Cessna Grand Caravan planes, a few smaller Pilatus planes and other aircraft. Many of its flights are to remote and difficult regions.

In November, one of the company's Cessnas crashed while trying to land in Indonesia's remote Papua region, killing a Spanish pilot.

Another of its aircraft crashed in September in Papua province, killing an Australian and Slovakian pilot.

"It's not easy to deal with an accident like this," the airline's owner Susi Pudjiastuti told reporters in Jakarta after the latest crash.

"Sometimes I ask myself whether I should continue (flying to difficult areas) or quit," she said.

The Indonesian archipelago of more than 17 000 islands relies on air transport to reach remote areas and has a poor aviation safety record.

Read more on:    indonesia  |  air crashes
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