The Airlines PNG Dash 8 was flying from Lae to Madang on the country’s north coast when it crashed in dense forest, near the mouth of the Gogol River, about 20km south of the resort centre of Madang at about 6pm with 32 people on board.
Only four are believed to have survived.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation says Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said “initial indications” were that no Australians had lost their lives.
“Airlines PNG and local authorities have advised that there were 28 passengers and four crew on board. They understand that four people survived the crash, including one Australian pilot and one New Zealand pilot,” a DFAT spokeswoman said.
A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesperson said the New Zealand High Commission in PNG was working to confirm the nationalities of those onboard.
“At this stage we are unable to confirm the reported survival of a New Zealand pilot,” the spokesperson said.
PNG Accident Investigation Commission’s spokesman, Sid O’Toole saod” “All I can tell you is there have been reports of survivors and reports there have been fatalities.”
At the request of PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, Australia has sent four army Blackhawk helicopters to assist in the search and rescue effort.
Airlines PNG said that it had grounded its fleet of 12 aircraft until further notice.
A New Zealander, Gary Toomey, is CEO of Airlines PNG. Mr Toomey was a former chief executive of Air New Zealand but before joining Airlines PNG was running his own consultancy business in Asia as well as a director of Qantas Airways.
Local firefighter Joe Dunar said the crash happened at Gogol, about 50 kilometres outside of Madang.
“All the police and hospital personnel, they attended at about 9pm,” he said.
“It was hard to get there. Very dense.”
He declined to comment on reports of survivors.
Local villagers have reportedly told the National Broadcasting Commission, PNG’s government-owned radio station, there were four survivors.
The plane was a scheduled flight and it was believed most of the passengers were parents travelling to a university graduation ceremony scheduled to be held in Madang this weekend.
Registration details show the crashed plane was operated between 1996 and 2002 by the now defunct Ansett New Zealand and was taken over by Nelson based Origin Pacific Airways until it collapsed in 2003. It was then purchased by Airline PNG.