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Plane with 15 people aboard crashes in Australia
Updated: 2005-05-07 16:38

A plane carrying 15 people crashed into dense forest in bad weather in Australia's remote far northeast, probably killing all on board, rescue authorities said Saturday.

The twin propellor Fairchild Metroliner had been due to arrive at Lockhart River, an Aboriginal community of 350 people in Queensland state, about midday local time (0200 GMT), Australian Search and Rescue spokeswoman Tracey Jiggins said.

Its wreck, burning in dense tropical forest on the side of a hill, was spotted from a search aircraft 11 kilometers (7 miles) northwest of the Lockhart River air strip late Saturday, Jiggins said.

Rescuers had yet to reach the site, she said Saturday night.

``It's impossible to say at this stage if there's been any survivors. It appears unlikely though,'' Jiggins told The Associated Press.

Confusion over the passenger manifest initially led authorities to believe 18 people were aboard, Jiggins said. But three booked passengers had not boarded the flight.

Two pilots and 13 passengers were aboard, she said. State police confirmed the total of 15 aboard.

The aircraft was en route from Bamaga, a community of 2,000 near the tip of the Cape York Peninsula, about 280 kilometers (170 miles) from Lockhart River, she said.

Three planes and two helicopters joined the search in the sparsely populated region, state police said.

The crash was Australia's worst air disaster since two army Black Hawk helicopters collided near the Queensland city of Townsville, killing 18 people in 1996.

Lockhart River is a former Anglican mission where Aborigines from across Cape York were placed in the 1920s until the outbreak of World War II, when they were told to return to their ancestral lands.

The mission was re-established as a community for Aborigines in 1947 and the church handed it to the Queensland state government in 1964.

In recent years, the tiny township has become known as the home of a critically acclaimed group of Aboriginal artists known as the Lockhart River Gang whose works sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

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