JAKARTA, Indonesia— A new Russian-made civilian plane carrying 50 people went missing in Indonesia while flying over mountains Wednesday during a demonstration flight for potential buyers and journalists, officials said.
Search and rescue teams were heading to the area just south of the capital, said Bambang Ervan, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation. Bad weather, however, forced two helicopters to move back.
The Sukhoi Superjet-100 took off from Jakarta’s Halim Perdanakusuma Airport at 2:21 p.m. (0721 GMT). It dropped off the radar 21 minutes later near the Salak mountain range, after the crew asked air traffic control for permission to descend from 10,000 feet to 6,000 feet. No explanation was given for the sudden change of course. It was drizzling at that time, not stormy.
“I saw a big plane passing just over my house, it was veering a bit to one side, the engine roaring,” ” Juanda, a villager who lives near the 7,200-foot- mountain, told the local station TV One. “It seemed to be heading toward Salak, but I didn’t hear an explosion or anything.”
Rear Marshal Daryatmo, chief of the national search and rescue agency, said several diplomats from the Russian Embassy, potential buyers from major Indonesian airlines and journalists were on board what was supposed to be a 50-minute demonstration flight. Together with the Russian crew, the plane was carrying 50 people.
Though the air search was called off by early evening, soldiers, police and members of the air force had joined the land-based rescue efforts. They were expected to continue through the night, but the territory was rough and difficult to navigate after darkness fell. “Hopefully they’ll be able to reach the location tonight,” Daryatmo said.
Developed by the Russian aerospace company Sukhoi in co-operation with Western partners, the plane is the first completely new airliner designed by Russia since the Soviet collapse. Russia has hoped that the short- to mid-range jet, which made its maiden run in 2008, would help it break into international markets dominated by Boeing and Airbus.
It was on the fourth stop of a six-nation “Welcome Asia!” road show after having already been to Myanmar, Pakistan and Kazakhstan. It was planned to head next to Laos and Vietnam.