PNG chopper search continues, pilots named

The names of two of the three men aboard a missing helicopter in Papua New Guinea have been released.

Search for missing PNG chopper continues

Search for missing PNG chopper continues

The New Zealander, Captain Antony Annan, 49, and Australian Captain Russell Aitken, 42, were named by Singapore-based company Hevilift on Sunday night.

The name of the third missing man, an Australian, has been withheld at his family's request.

The Bell 206 helicopter, operated by Hevilift, went missing on Friday afternoon in low cloud near Mt Hagen in PNG's mountainous and densely forested Southern Highlands.

The second full day of grid searching on Sunday found no sightings of the helicopter or of the missing crew.

The search would restart at first light on Monday morning, the company said in a statement.

Seven helicopters as well as a specialist electronic surveillance aircraft from Australia were searching the area.

Hevilift group managing director Colin Seymour says the company is talking to the men's families throughout the search.

Mr Seymour refused to comment on whether the helicopter was carrying a locator beacon, or say anything about the company's safety record.

Experts say the dense jungle could easily swallow the helicopter, leaving no trace from the air.

Hevilift's group managing director Paul Booij, who arrived in Mt Hagen on Saturday, said the company was devastated that colleagues were missing.

"We are all doing everything we can and we are humbled at the response by others to assist us in the search," he said.

The company was thinking of the men's families, he said.

"I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through, it must be just harrowing. Everyone here, in this rescue, has their own families and we all know that we cannot let up in our efforts to locate our colleagues," Mr Booij said.

The search is being led by the company. Local villagers are co-operating with HeviLift in conducting the ground search.

A search-and-rescue officer attached to the joint Australia-New Zealand Task Force, in PNG to support the national elections, is also helping with search efforts.

The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby says the task force is maintaining close contact with the PNG Search and Rescue Co-ordination Centre, with the Australian high commissioner and NZ's deputy high commissioner flying to Mt Hagen on Sunday.

Since 2000 there have been more than 60 aviation deaths in Papua New Guinea in 10 crashes, including a fiery Airlines PNG accident which killed 28 people in October last year.

However, Australian captain Bill Spencer, 64, and New Zealand first officer Campbell Wagstaff survived the crash.

Papua New Guinea only set up an air accident commission in 2008, in response to safety criticisms.

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