By SINCLAIRE SOLOMON
AN Airlines PNG Dash 8 aircraft crashed in bad weather near Madang killing up to 28 people in the country's worst air disaster, The National reports.
There were four survivors – three crew members and a passenger.
Prime Minister Peter O'Neill immediately conveyed his condolences while Public Enterprises Minister Sir Mekere Morauta suspended all talks in relation to the proposed Air Niugini and Airlines PNG merger.
The Accident Investigation Commission (AIC) said last night there were 32 people on board the plane which went down about 6pm in the Raicoast area on a normal flight from Lae to Madang.
Unconfirmed reports suggested that the passengers were mainly parents on their way to attend the thanksgiving of their children attending the Divine Word University in Madang.On a normal domestic flight, a Dash 8 aircraft carries a crew of four – a pilot, a first officer and two flight attendants.
Villagers and Madang residents said the weather was bad, with thunderstorm in the area in the afternoon.
AIC had not officially confirmed how many had survived the crash, however, investigator Sid O'Toole said the plane went down over land about 20km south of Madang.
"There were reports of fire and there have been some fatalities," he said.
O'Toole said police and ambulances had reached the crash site and investigators will be travelling there today.
The billion-kina Ramu nickel mine developer Ramu NiCo, which has projects in the area, said last night it had a rescue team on site.
As of 7pm, Madang provincial police commander Anthony Wagambie Jr and his officers, emergency official Norman Philemon and provincial administrator Ben Lange were making preparations to send a rescue team to Raicoast.
In Port Moresby, consular officials at the Australian High Commission were trying to determine if there were any Australians on board. It was believed the pilots were Australians.
Australia also scrambled four Black Hawk helicopters, here for the past week for a joint defence force exercise, to help in the search and rescue effort.
Sir Mekere expressed deep sympathy for the families and relatives of those who had lost their lives in the crash.
"This is a terrible accident, and many people have died," he said.
"I offer my condolences to the families of the victims of this disaster," he said.