Russian airliner goes missing on demonstration flight

Searchers focus on area near volcano

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — A new Russian-made passenger plane went missing over mountains in western Indonesia Wednesday while on a demonstration flight arranged for potential buyers.

Fifty people were on board, including diplomats, businesspeople and journalists.

Search-and-rescue teams were deployed to the area just south of the capital, Jakarta, said Bambang Ervan, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation.

He said more than 100 people were still searching the rugged, forested terrain after darkness fell. Bad weather, however, forced at least two helicopters to turn back.

The Sukhoi Superjet-100, Russia’s first new passenger jet since the fall of the Soviet Union, took off from the Halim Perdanakusuma Airport at 2:21 p.m. for what was supposed to be a quick test flight - the second of the day.

It dropped off the radar just 21 minutes later, shortly after the crew asked air traffic control for permission to drop from 10,000 feet to 6,000 feet, said Rear Marshal Daryatmo, chief of the national search-and-rescue agency.

They didn’t explain the change of course, which occurred near Salak, a long-dormant volcano, he said. Though drizzling at the time, it was not stormy, and there was no obvious sign of distress.

Cellphones of those on board were either turned off or not active.

“I saw a big plane passing just over my house,” a villager who lives near the 7,200-foot mountain told local station TVOne.

“It was veering a bit to one side, the engine roaring,” he said. “It seemed to be heading toward Salak, but I didn’t hear an explosion or anything.”

Dozens of family members gathered at the airport, awaiting news about their loved ones. Many were crying. Some were clinging to young, sleepy children.

Marshal Daryatmo said soldiers, police and air force personnel were helping to look for the plane.

“Hopefully they’ll be able to reach the location tonight,” he said, adding that helicopters were ready to return at daybreak Thursday if necessary.

The Superjet has been widely considered Russia’s chance to regain a foothold in the international passenger plane market.

The country’s aerospace industry was badly undermined in the economic turmoil following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

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