Villagers in Indonesia's remote and mountainous eastern Papua region reported that an aircraft had crashed, a Trigana Air official said on Sunday, several hours after an aircraft carrying 54 people went missing, media reports said.
Earlier the National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) said a twin-turboprop aircraft had lost contact with air traffic control as it flew over the forested area but efforts to trace the plane were difficult because of failing light as night fell.
Indonesia has a patchy aviation safety record and has seen two major plane crashes in the past year, including an AirAsia flight that went down in the Java Sea, killing all on board.
"We received reports from residents. We, along with the search and rescue team, also sent aircraft to search for it," Trigana Air Operations Director Beni Sumaryanto said, according to the kompas.com news portal.
He said that within 30 minutes of receiving news that the aircraft was missing, the airline sent another ATR 42 to search along the same flight path but it found nothing because of bad weather.
He said police, military and search teams would check the area where there had been reports of a crash, in Oksibil district, in the morning.
According to the official BASARNAS Twitter account, the aircraft, a short-haul ATR 42-300 airliner belonging to Trigana Air Service and built in France and Italy, was carrying 44 adult passengers, five crew and five children and infants.
The plane was flying between Jayapura's Sentani Airport and Oksibil, due south of Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.
The agency's Jayapura office was coordinating the search, a separate Tweet read as dusk set in across the tropics.
Air transport is commonly used in Papua, Indonesia's easternmost province, where land travel is often impossible.
According to the Aviation Safety Network, an online database, the ATR 42-300 that went missing made its first flight 27 years ago. ATR is a joint venture between Airbus (AIR.PA) and Alenia Aermacchi, a subsidiary of Italian aerospace firm Finmeccanica (SIFI.MI).
Trigana officials were not immediately available to comment.
The airline has been on the EU's list of banned carriers since 2007. Airlines on the list are barred from operating in European airspace due to either concerns about safety standards or the regulatory environment in their country of registration.
The airline has a fleet of 14 aircraft, according to the airfleets.com database. These include 10 ATR aircraft and four Boeing 737 classics. These have an average age of 26.6 years, according to the database.
Trigana has had 14 serious incidents since it began operations in 1991, according to the Aviation Safety Network’s online database. Excluding this latest incident, it has written off 10 aircraft.
The AirAsia crash last year prompted the Indonesian government to introduce regulations aimed at improving safety.
Indonesia's president promised a review of the aging air force fleet in July after a military transport plane crashed in the north of the country, killing more than 100 people.
(Additional reporting by Siva Govindasamy in Singapore; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Dale Hudson)