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Bad weather stymies Papua New Guinea crash probe

RESCUE workers and investigators prepared today to fly to the remote mountain site in Papua New Guinea of a plane crash that killed 13 people - including nine Australians - to recover bodies and determine the cause of the disaster.

Bad weather delayed their departure for the rugged region, where rescue workers who reached there a day earlier had cleared a temporary landing strip, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

The Airlines PNG plane vanished Tuesday morning in bad weather on approach to an airport in the Kokoda region. There were no survivors among the nine Australians, one Japanese and three Papua New Guineans who were on board.

ABC radio said Thursday that three bodies had so far been recovered.

Australia has sent four specialist investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to help Papua New Guinea authorities collect and analyze evidence.

Officials were not immediately sure what caused the crash. In a statement, Airlines PNG said the plane's two pilots were "highly experienced."

Papua New Guinea Transport Minister Don Polye said yesterday that he has ordered an investigation into the airline. He would not speculate on the cause of the crash.

The twin-engine plane left the capital of Port Moresby en route to an airport near Kokoda Track, a mountainous 60-mile (100-kilometer) trail. The plane's crew radioed air traffic controllers as it was approaching the airstrip, but the aircraft never landed, said Allen Tyson, a spokesman for Airlines PNG.

Eight Australian tourists and an Australian tour guide had planned to walk the trail as part of a trek organized by the adventure tour company No Roads Expeditions, the company said. Another guide from Papua New Guinea also was on board, it said.

Former Kokoda Track Authority CEO Warren Bartlett urged Papua New Guinea to upgrade the airstrip, saying it lacks white markers that would assist pilots landing their planes.

"It should be the initiative of the Papua New Guinea government to make a commitment to upgrade the airstrip and ask for donor aid assistance, possibly, from Australia or Japan or the World Bank or wherever," Bartlett told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.

A 2006 inquiry into the need to upgrade the airstrip due to the increasing number of tourists found the upgrades would cost 3.5 million Australian dollars (US$2.9 million).


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