Russell Blackstock

Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

No sign of PNG helicopter yet

A Bell 206 helicopter like this one is missing in PNG. Photo / Supplied
A Bell 206 helicopter like this one is missing in PNG. Photo / Supplied

A helicopter missing in a remote region of Papua New Guinea with a Kiwi and two Australians on board was flying in low cloud with reduced visibility, its owner said.

The Bell 206 helicopter, operated by aviation charter service Hevilift, was reported missing about 3.25pm local time on Friday near the town of Wabag in the mountainous Enga Province.

A mayday call was broadcast about five minutes after the helicopter departed the InterOil Drill Rig site. The two pilots and an aircraft engineer on board were Hevilift employees.

"We are continuing the search," group deputy managing director Colin Seymour said from Singapore yesterday.

He believed the helicopter was heading for Hou Creek to refuel at the time.

The conditions were believed to be low cloud with reduced visibility.

Hevilift had not released the names of the three men but said it had been in contact with their families.

New Zealand Defence Force PNG adviser Lieutenant Colonel Richard Taylor said many commercial helicopter operators were in the area, helping to set up the country's general elections.

"There're a lot of helicopters up there flying ballot boxes and election officials around."

The NZDF has three helicopters operating in the southwest of the country and the Australians have four, but they weren't involved in the search early yesterday, Taylor said.

"There are quite a number of commercial helicopters operating in that area so we're anticipating that some of those will be able to be used for searching for the wreckage, but to the best of my knowledge there's been no word received from the crash site that would indicate survivors."

Taylor said it would be a difficult search.

"It's quite rugged; you could probably describe it as a jungle version of the Southern Alps: very mountainous with a number of flat plateau areas scattered around where the population centres tend to be."

A former senior Hevilift employee said the company's base at Mt Hagen was a tight-knit community.

"It is a very hazardous area to fly in and the weather can bite you very easily, so safety is paramount," said the ex-worker, who declined to be named.

russell.blackstock@hos.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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