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Small plane crashes in Indonesia; 18 feared dead

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MEDAN, Indonesia >> A small plane on a local flight in western Indonesia crashed into a mountainous area today and all 18 people aboard were feared dead, officials said. Rugged terrain and rains hampered searchers trying to reach the wreckage.

The Spanish-designed CASA C-212 was about halfway through its 30-minute flight between North Sumatra and Aceh provinces when it lost contact with air traffic control, said Transportation Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan.

Minutes later, the turboprop-powered aircraft sent out a distress signal and then dropped off the radar, Bonar Hutagaol, an Air Force marshal, told TVOne.

“I saw something unusual,” Agus, a witness, told the station. “A smoking plane circling very low before it disappeared from my view.”

Wreckage of the aircraft — spotted during an aerial survey near the mountainous village of Bahorok — appeared to be largely intact, wings still fused to the body, said Ervan. There were no signs of the 14 passengers and four crew members, he said.

Supri Sinaga, head of the local search-and-rescue team, said it could take hours to reach the scene because of torrential rains and the steep, rocky terrain.

The aircraft, made in Indonesia in 1989, was last inspected on Sept. 22, said Robur Rizallianto, an official with the owner, PT Nusantara Buana Air. It was in good condition, he said, and a check ahead of takeoff Thursday also came up clean.

Indonesia, a sprawling archipelagic nation of 240 million people, has been plagued by transportation accidents in recent years, from plane and train crashes to ferry sinkings. Many are blamed on overcrowding and poor safety standards.

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Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini contributed to this report from Jakarta.

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