No sign of chopper missing in Papua New Guinea forest


Mon, Jul 09, 2012 - Page 5

A search began yesterday for a helicopter carrying two Australians and a New Zealander that went missing in rugged Papua New Guinea (PNG) two days ago.

The Bell 206 issued a mayday call on Friday afternoon in the mountainous Southern Highlands region about five minutes after taking off from an InterOil drill rig in poor conditions.

“We are devastated that our colleagues are missing,” Paul Booij, managing director of the helicopter’s operator, Hevilift, said in a statement yesterday. “We are all doing everything we can and we are humbled at the response by others to assist us in the search.”

A search mission was mounted soon after the helicopter issued its distress call and seven helicopters have been involved the hunt along with a Dornier 328 fixed-wing airplane dispatched from Australia.

Hevilift, a Singapore-based air charter company catering to mining and energy operators, said the search had resumed at dawn yesterday, but by afternoon there was no sign of the helicopter, which was carrying two pilots and an aircraft engineer.

No rescue beacon signals had been detected from the thickly forested region where it was believed to have gone down, the company added.

The helicopter was thought to have gone down at Kikori, a densely wooded and oil-rich settlement at the head of the Gulf of Papua, according to PNG aviation officials.

Australia’s foreign office has said two of its citizens, men aged 37 and 42, were on board the lost chopper, along with a New Zealand man, 50.

Aviation accidents are common in Papua New Guinea, where rugged terrain and lack of internal connecting roads make air travel crucial for its 6 million citizens and the growing numbers of oil, gas and mining workers.