JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — A search plane spotted the wreckage of an Indonesian military helicopter that went missing with 12 people nearly eight months ago in the country’s troubled easternmost province of Papua, military officials said Monday.
The Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter lost contact five minutes after taking off from Oksibil, the capital of the district of Bintang Mountain on June 28. It was traveling to the provincial capital, Jayapura.
The army helicopter was taking troops and supplies to a border post in Okbibab near Papua New Guinea and had refueled at Oksibil before it was reported missing by the control tower at an altitude of 7,800 feet (2,400 meters), the military said.
Rescue teams from the army and local search and rescue agency had searched on the ground for the aircraft for two months, but were unable to find the aircraft, which was carrying 12 military personnel, including five border security forces.
Papua military spokesman Dax Sianturi said residents of the village of Oksop had told local authorities last week that they had seen the wreckage near their village in an area considered sacred.
After that, the search resumed with a helicopter. Papua military chief Maj. Gen. Herman Asaribab, who was on board the search aircraft, said the wreckage was spotted on Monday from an altitude of 12,500 feet, about 12 kilometers (7 miles) from Oksibil.
There was no immediate word of any survivors. Military helicopters have become a target of a separatist rebels in Papua province.
Asaribab said search and rescue teams were preparing to travel to the crash site by air and foot, and would begin the evacuation of the victims from the sacred ground with the permission and blessing of indigenous Papuan leaders.
Flying is the only practical way of accessing many areas in the mountain and jungle-clad easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Papua, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea, was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. A small, poorly armed separatist group has been battling for independence since then.