Port Moresby: A plane crashed in stormy weather in Papua New Guinea`s remote forests, killing 28 people and leaving only four survivors, officials said on Friday.
Two pilots, one Australian and one from New Zealand, were among those who survived Thursday`s crash on the South Pacific island nation`s northern coast, Australia`s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement. One flight attendant and one passenger also survived, Airlines PNG said in a statement.
All of those killed are believed to be Papua New Guinea nationals, the airline said.
The Airlines PNG Dash 8 aircraft crashed while flying from Lae to the resort hub of Madang, Papua New Guinea`s Accident Investigation Commission spokesman Sid O`Toole said.
The twin-propeller plane went down 12 miles (20 kilometres) south of Madang, he said. Police and ambulances had reached the crash site and investigators were travelling there Friday, he said.
In a statement, the airline said there was "an emergency situation" on board the aircraft during its approach to Madang airport.
"It has also been confirmed there was bad weather in the area at the time," the airline said. "The crew attempted to conduct a controlled emergency landing but the aircraft broke up on impact. Part of the fuselage caught fire."
Captain Bill Spencer, a 64-year-old pilot who survived the crash, has 45 years flying experience, including 35 years in Papua New Guinea, the airline said. First Officer Campbell Wagstaff, who also survived, has over 2,500 hours flying experience.
Airlines PNG said it has launched a full investigation into the possible cause, and will be examining potential factors such as weather, fuel, any possible mid-air fire or mechanical problems. The airline said it has temporarily grounded its 11 remaining Dash 8 aircraft.
"This is our commitment to the people of PNG, the families of those lost, and the survivors of this terrible tragedy: We will give you our total support in the days and months ahead," airline spokesman Erastus Kamburi said. "We will do whatever is needed to find the answers as to what happened and to share those answers with you all."
Trevor Hattersley, the Australian High Commission`s warden in Madang, said the plane went down during a violent storm in an extremely remote jungle not far from the coast.
"The weather was horrendous," Hattersley said. "There was a huge storm that came through at the same time — big rain, big wind."
Residents of a nearby village rushed to help, pulling people from the wreckage, Hattersley said. The storm had left the lone road from the crash site to Madang flooded, so rescuers had to get the four survivors to the nearest beach and transport them to Madang by boat.
One of the survivors` legs is severely injured, but another survivor is in fairly good shape, Hattersley said. He did not know the conditions of the other two survivors.
Papua New Guinea journalist Scott Waide told Australian Broadcasting Corp that he had visited the hospital where the survivors were being treated. One of the survivors told a nurse he fled the burning wreckage through a crack in the fuselage, Waide said.
"He told the nurses he was sitting on the seventh seat and the plane broke in half," Waide told ABC. "While struggling to get out, his arms got burned and his back got burned."
Most of the passengers were parents travelling to attend their children`s university graduation ceremony in Madang this weekend, according to the Australian Associated Press news agency.
The duty manager at the Madang Resort, Donald Lambert, said six of the plane`s occupants, including the crew, had reservations to stay at his hotel.
"I went to meet them at the airport," he said.