JAKARTA /JAYAPURA - An aircraft with 54 people on board crashed in Indonesia's remote and mountainous region of Papua on Sunday, a government official said, the latest in a string of aviation disasters in the Southeast Asian nation.

"The latest information is that the Trigana aircraft that lost contact has been found at Camp 3, Ok Bape district in the Bintang Mountains regency," Air Transportation Director General Suprasetyo told reporters. "Residents provided information that the aircraft crashed into Tangok mountain."

There was no immediate word on whether anyone survived. Earlier, the National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) said a twin-turboprop plane had lost contact with air traffic control as it flew over the forested area of eastern Indonesia but efforts to trace it were difficult because of failing light.

Trigana Air Operations Director Beni Sumaryanto said that within 30 minutes of hearing that the aircraft was missing, the airline sent another plane to scour the same flight path but it had found nothing because of bad weather, local media reported. According to the official BASARNAS Twitter account, the aircraft, a short-haul ATR 42-300 airliner belonging to Trigana Air Service and built in France and Italy, was carrying 44 adult passengers, five crew and five children and infants.

The plane was flying between Jayapura's Sentani Airport and Oksibil, due south of Jayapura, the capital of Papua province. Air transport is commonly used in Papua, Indonesia's easternmost province, where land travel is often impossible. According to the Aviation Safety Network, an online database, the ATR 42-300 that went missing made its first flight 27 years ago. ATR is a joint venture between Airbus and Alenia Aermacchi, a subsidiary of Italian aerospace firm Finmeccanica.

The airline has been on the EU's list of banned carriers since 2007. Airlines on the list are barred from operating in European airspace due to either concerns about safety standards or the regulatory environment in their country of registration. The airline has a fleet of 14 aircraft, according to the airfleets.com database. These include 10 ATR aircraft and four Boeing 737 Classics. These have an average age of 26.6 years, according to the database. Trigana has had 14 serious incidents since it began operations in 1991, according to the Aviation Safety Network. Excluding this latest incident, it has written off 10 aircraft.

Airline officials were not immediately available to respond to enquiries from Reuters. Indonesia has a patchy aviation safety record and has seen two major plane crashes in the past year, including an AirAsia flight that went down in the Java Sea, killing all on board. The AirAsia crash prompted the Indonesian government to introduce regulations aimed at improving safety. Indonesia's president promised a review of the ageing air force fleet in July after a military transport plane crashed in the north of the country, killing more than 100 people.

Villagers find crashed

Indonesian plane

The wreckage of the passenger plane has been found by villagers, an official said, with rescuers expected to head to the crash site.

Officials said initially that villagers in the Okbape district of Papua reported seeing a plane crash. The transport ministry later said local residents had found the wreckage.

"The plane has been found (by villagers). According to residents, the flight had crashed into a mountain," said the transport ministry's director-general of air transportation, Suprasetyo, who goes by one name. Officials were still verifying the information from local residents, he said. There was no information about whether anyone may have survived. Search and rescue teams, police and the military would head to the site as soon as possible Monday, said transport ministry spokesman J. A. Barata.

After the plane failed to land, Trigana Air sent another flight over the area to hunt for it but the aircraft failed to spot anything due to bad weather. Captain Beni Sumaryanto, Trigana Air's service director of operations, told AFP that Oksibil was "a mountainous area where the weather is very unpredictable. It can suddenly turn foggy, dark and windy without warning.

"We strongly suspect it's a weather issue. It is not overcapacity, as the plane could take 50 passengers." Barata said the weather in the area had been "very dark and cloudy". Trigana Air is a small airline established in 1991 that operates domestic services to around 40 destinations in Indonesia. It has suffered 14 serious incidents since it began operations, according to the Aviation Safety Network, which monitors air accidents.

The airline is on a blacklist of carriers banned from European Union airspace. Small aircraft are commonly used for transport in remote and mountainous Papua and bad weather has caused several accidents in recent years. On Wednesday a Cessna propeller plane crashed in Papua's Yahukimo district, killing one person and seriously injuring the five others on board. Officials suspect that crash was caused by bad weather. Indonesia has a patchy aviation safety record. In December an AirAsia plane flying from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore crashed in the Java Sea during stormy weather, killing all 162 people on board.

In June an Indonesian military plane crashed into a residential neighbourhood in the city of Medan, exploding in a fireball and killing 142 people. The aviation sector in Indonesia is expanding fast as the economy booms but airlines are struggling to find enough well-trained personnel to keep up with the rapid growth.