The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has confirmed that all 13 people aboard an Airlines PNG Twin Otter, including 9 Australians, were killed when it crashed yesterday morning north of Isurava village in mountain forest terrain off to one side of the Kokoda track.

A cross section of the Kokoda track
A cross section of the Kokoda track

The wreckage of the small turbo prop aircraft was not located with precision until this morning . Contact has been lost after it disappeared into low cloud following an aborted landing attempt at the Kokoda air strip.

The Australian party were about to start the challenging 96 kilometre walk up and down the steep climbs of the historic track to Owers Corner on the Port Moresby side of the Owen Stanley Ranges. They died not far in terms of distance from the site of the desperate battle Australian soldiers fought with the advancing Japanese forces at Isurava in August 1942.

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But distance on the Kokoda track comes in hours rather than metres because of the difficult conditions, and especially off the actual path. It has taken a ground party many hours even to reach the crash site and report that there are no survivors.

An overview of the Kagi airstrip which is the nearest to the reported crash site  as posted on this morning
An overview of the Kagi airstrip indicative of the terrain along the Kokoda Track as posted on this morning

Australia has deploying two helicopters and search and rescue crews in the area today after ferry flights in a C-130 and C-17.

Earlier today the wreckage was initially reported as being on Mt Bellamy based on reports of a loud explosion in the area during the period the flight would have expected to be positioning itself for another attempt at landing.

Airlines PNG was founded in 1987 as Milne Bay Airlines by a plantation owner and has grown into a significant domestic carrier. It had an atrocious accident record under its first name, killing more than 42 people. Since being renamed and reorganised it has killed 15 people, 13 in yesterday’s crash and two pilots operating an air freight flight in 2004.

The airline recently hired former Air New Zealand/Ansett CEO Gary Toomey as its CEO to drive its expansion plans.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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