The National, Monday July 9th, 2012
ELECTRONIC surveillance is being used as the search widens for a helicopter that went down in dense jungle in Papua New Guinea with two Australians and a New Zealander on board.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) last night was awaiting an update on the search that involves seven helicopters as well as a fixed-wing aircraft conducting the electronic surveillance in the area.
The Bell 206 chopper, operated by Hevilift Ltd, disappeared last Friday afternoon near Mt Hagen, Western Highlands province, with two pilots and an aircraft engineer on board.
The two Australians were reported to be aged 37 and 42, and the New Zealander, 50.
The helicopter was flying in low cloud with reduced visibility.
Hevilift group managing director Colin Seymour said yesterday the search was widened early yesterday morning, with several hoist-equipped choppers on standby for when the plane and crew are found.
The efforts also now involve a search-and-rescue officer attached to the joint Australia-New Zealand Task Force which is in PNG to support the national election.
The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby said the task force was maintaining close contact with the PNG Search and Rescue Coordination Centre, with the Australian high commissioner and New Zealand’s deputy high commissioner scheduled to fly to Mt Hagen yesterday.
Seymour said he understood some of the helicopters used in the search were Australian Defence Force (ADF) choppers.
PNG aviation officials said the chopper was thought to have gone down in Kikori, a densely-wooded and oil-rich settlement at the head of the Gulf of Papua.
But they were yet to find any wreckage and could not confirm fatalities.
“It was coming in from one of the InterOil sites to Mt Hagen,” head of civil aviation safety
in PNG Yaqub Amaki told AAP.
Hevilift said a mayday call was broadcast about five minutes after the helicopter left a drill rig site at 3.25pm.
It is believed they were on their way to refuel before returning to their Mt Hagen base.
Hevilift’s managing director Paul Booij, who arrived in Mt Hagen last Saturday, said the staff were devastated that their colleagues were missing.
“We are all doing everything we can and we are humbled at the response by others to assist us in the search,” he said.
The company was in constant communication with the missing workers’ families.
“I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through, it must be just harrowing.
“Everyone here, in this rescue, has their own families and we all know that we
cannot let up in our efforts to locate our colleagues,” Booij said.
The Australian and Papua New Guinean defence forces, along with Australian search and rescue teams, ExxonMobil PNG and Hevilift clients were assisting in the search.
Lt-Col Kisokau Powaseu, the commanding officer of the PNGDF Air Transport Wing, said yesterday neither of the two helicopters the army had leased from Hevilift was involved in the crash.
Powaseu said he had instructed defence helicopters to help in the search and rescue efforts for the missing crewmen and their aircraft.
Booij could not be contacted yesterday for further details.