Editorial Notes

Trigana Air tragedy wasn't just another plane crash, says The Jakarta Post

Indonesian security forces and rescue teams carry coffins containing the remains of some of the passengers recovered from the crash site of the Trigana Air passenger plane on Aug 19, 2015.
Indonesian security forces and rescue teams carry coffins containing the remains of some of the passengers recovered from the crash site of the Trigana Air passenger plane on Aug 19, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Aug 19, 2015, The Jakarta Post says maintenance procedures and availability of guidance devices could help prevent future tragedies like last week's Trigana Air plane crash.

In less than two months, the national air transportation sector mourns again the loss of life after a Trigana Air service plane crashed into a mountain slope near Oksibil, the capital of Bintang Mountain regency in Papua last Saturday.

Credit should go to the search-and-rescue team, as their hard work has resulted in the discovery of the corpses of all the 54 Trigana plane crash victims, ending uncertainties about their fate. Evacuation of the remains is underway, but a combination of bad weather and the difficult terrain poses a threat to the rescuers.

What connects the weekend plane crash and the previous accident in the North Sumatra capital of Medan on June 30 is the fact that the two involved old aircraft. The ATR 42-300 plane belonging to Trigana had been in service for 27 years, while the military Hercules C-130 that crashed in Medan was made in the early 1960s.

But age, at least according to the Transportation Ministry, does not matter in the high-tech industry, as long as there is compliance to maintenance procedures. Statistics show air travel is the safest among all forms of transportation in terms of deaths per passenger miles, regardless of the fact that old planes are still in use.

The crash of AirAsia in Kalimantan waters last December and another one in Brazil in 2009, for example, involved relatively new aircraft.

Thanks to strict safety regulations adopted in the air transportation industry, human factors and weather have frequently been blamed for a plane accident. As in the Trigana case, although investigation into the accident has not yet started, bad weather has been suspected of causing the fatal crash.

The air transportation industry and missionaries are familiar with the notorious weather in the remote mountainous regions of Papua, which can change in less than an hour. It was bad weather, too, that halted the search for the Trigana aircraft on Monday and caused another Trigana plane to smash into the Jayawijaya Mountains in Papua in 2006.

Captain Hasanudin, the pilot of the Saturday flight, began his career 15 years ago and had been flying ATR aircraft for quite a long time. His colleagues also remembered him as a rule-abiding person, particularly regarding safety. Those facts seem to suggest that technically the plane was airworthy, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Trigana and several other air transport providers have been operating in Papua for many years, opening access to remote, underdeveloped regions of the province while other companies compete for lucrative routes in Java and Sumatra. Serving in Papua therefore requires not only determination but also exceptional skills to tame the skies over the country's easternmost province.

As a Trigana executive lamented on Tuesday, despite the geographical challenges, Papua lacks navigation and communication devices that could guide pilots to their destinations without much trouble.

The Transportation Ministry should pay attention to such concerns for the sake of safety and sustainability of air transportation services that remain the sole mode of transport in many parts of Papua.