Twin Otter Goes Down With 13 Onboard In The Kokoda Mountain Range




Twin Otter Goes Down With 13 Onboard In The Kokoda Mountain Range

By Mike Mitchell  (Update)


On Tuesday, August 11, 2009, a PNG Airlines (Airlines of Papua New Guinea) Twin Otter turboprop aircraft crashed in the rugged Kokoda mountain range north of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. The twin Otter departed Port Moresby at 10:53 AM with 11 Australian passengers and two crew members and was scheduled to land at Kokoda Airstrip at 11:20 AM. The pilot was 26 year old Jennie Moala and her copilot was First Officer Royden Soauka.

The Kokoda mountain range in Papua, New Guinea is famous for the Kokoda Trail, a single-file foot thoroughfare that runs 60 miles overland. The trail is most famous for the location of the World War II battle between Japanese and Australian forces in 1942.

The track starts, or ends, at Owers Corner in Central Province, 31 miles east of Port Moresby, and then crosses rugged and isolated, terrain, which is only passable on foot, to the village of Kokoda in Oro Province. It reaches a height of 7,185 feet as it passes around the peak of Mount Bellamy. Hot, humid days with intensely cold nights, torrential rainfall and the risk of endemic tropical diseases such as malaria make it a challenge to walk. Despite the challenge posed it is a popular hike that takes between four and twelve days (depending on fitness). Locals have been known to hike the route in three days.

Six months ago Captain Jennie Moala from Papua, New Guinea, became the second woman to become captain of an Airlines PNG aircraft. Her First Officer, from Papua, New Guinea, Royden Soauka began working for PNG in 2005 and had more than 2000 hours in this type of aircraft. Both pilots were very familiar with the Kokoda route. 


Upon failure to arrive at their scheduled arrival time an agent at Kokoda Airstrip contacted the airline’s operations center to advise of its non-arrival. The Operations Center made immediate contacted Port Moresby Flight Service. At which time they were advised that the last radio contact with the aircraft had been at 11:11 a.m. At 11:40 AM PNG Airlines activated its Emergency Response Plan and a Crisis Center in its Port Moresby headquarters.

Another Airlines PNG Twin Otter had landed at Kokoda airstrip shortly after the scheduled arrival time of the first aircraft and was used to search for the missing aircraft. The airline also diverted one of Dash 8 aircraft to the vicinity to do likewise. Additionally the airline immediately arranged for two Heli-Niugini helicopters to join the search and at 12:00 noon, PNG’s Civil Aviation Authority was advised of the situation and the Australian High Commission and Japanese Embassy in Port Moresby was notified shortly thereafter.  

The Australian Rescue Coordination Centre, which monitors emergency signals from the aircraft’s ELT (emergency locator transmitter), was notified of the missing aircraft.  The Australian Rescue Coordination Centre had advised the Crisis Center that no signal had been received. 


Of the eleven passengers, there is one Papua New Guinean, a Japanese national and nine were Australian members of a Kokoda trekking group organized through a Victorian tour operator. The twin Otter aircraft earlier this year had undergone a complete refurbishment of the latest navigation instruments including terrain avoidance equipment.  

Airlines PNG (Airlines of Papua New Guinea) The airline was established and started operations in 1987 and was originally known as Milne Bay Air or simply MBA. It operated as a charter company in the resource development industry.

The airline obtained an RPT license in September 1992 and received its airline license in March 1997. With its headquarters and main operating base set in Port Moresby, there are also support staff in Cairns and Brisbane, Australia. The Airlines PNG employs 600 employees.


On Wednesday attempts were made to locate the twin Otter, due to heavy cloud cover in the area, helicopters were unable to search the Kokoda mountain range and had resume on Thursday. By mid day rescue workers retrieved three bodies. Recovery efforts were hampered  due to poor weather conditions no other bodies had been pulled from the wreckage. Recovery efforts resumed on Friday, rescue teams were able to locate and remove the remaining ten bodies from the crash site.

Authorities are combing through the wreckage to determine what brought down the twin Otter. 

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