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12 killed in PNG light plane crash

Friday 15 April 2016 | Published in Regional

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PAPUA NEW GUINEA – An Australian pilot is among 12 people who were killed when a light plane crashed as it tried to land in Papua New Guinea’s Western Province, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says.

The Britten Norman-Islander plane crashed into a swamp just short of the airport runway at Kiunga in central PNG on Wednesday afternoon.

Kiunga police said three people were taken alive from the wreckage to Kiunga hospital, but were pronounced dead on arrival.

“Yesterday we encountered a tragedy, a plane crash,” Kiunga’s police commander Joe Puri said.

“A small plane that arrived from Oksapmin just before landing crashed into the swamp, with all the passengers, including the pilot, dead.”

Local media reported engine failure on the Sunbird Aviation aircraft caused the crash.

Benjamin Picard, 31, of Sydney, was flying the twin-engine Britten-Norman Islander for Sunbird Aviation when he is believed to have come in short of the runway at Kiunga, and nosedived into a swamp.

There were eleven others on board the plane, including three children.

Investigators have been unable to explain Wednesday afternoon’s crash, saying the weather was good and the aircraft well-maintained.

In a statement, Picard’s girlfriend, Matilda Branson said Benjamin had worked in Queensland for many years and was chief pilot and instructor to local pilots in Nepal for nearly five years.

“We are all devastated by his loss, that no words can describe, except that the world is a poorer place without him.”

“He was a brilliant pilot, having worked in Queensland for many years and chief pilot and instructor to local pilots in Nepal for nearly five years, flying regularly to Lukla in the Everest region and some of the most dangerous airports in the world delivering rice and supplies for the World Food Programme, and providing emergency medical evacuation for people in remote areas.”

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Papua New Guinea is carrying out an investigation into the crash.

An Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson confirmed consular support was being provided “to the family of an Australian man who was on board a Sunbird Aviation aircraft travelling from Oksapmin to Kiunga in Western Province, Papua New Guinea.”

“We continue to work closely with Papua New Guinea authorities,” DFAT said.

“Our thoughts are with the passengers and crew of the aircraft and their families.

- ABC