Sydney: A charter plane carrying 13 people — including nine Australians — to a popular tourist site in Papua New Guinea vanished on approach to an airport on Tuesday, the airline and Australia`s Foreign Minister said.
The twin-engine plane left the capital of Port Moresby en route to an airport near the country`s Kokoda Track, a mountainous 100-kilometre (60-mile) trail. The plane`s crew radioed air traffic controllers as it was approaching the airstrip, but the aircraft never landed, said Allen Tyson, a spokesman for Airlines PNG.
A search and rescue mission was immediately launched, Tyson said. The plane, carrying 11 passengers and two crew, had an emergency locator beacon but it was not transmitting, he said. No further information was immediately available, he said.
Australia`s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed nine of the passengers on board were Australian. The trail is a popular destination for Australian tourists.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith expressed grave fears for the passengers` welfare in Parliament.
"We are, of course, concerned for all of the passengers and the crew," Smith said.
The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby was working with Papua New Guinean authorities to determine what happened to the plane, Smith said. Searchers were checking other small airstrips in the area to see if it may have landed elsewhere. But poor weather conditions were hampering searchers` efforts, he said.