(AFP) – Jun 21, 2010
YAOUNDE — Rescuers have found the wreckage of a crashed plane carrying an Australian mining tycoon and other executives, with ten bodies found so far, Cameroonian and Congolese officials said.
The plane carrying 11 people including tycoon Ken Talbot and the entire board of the Sundance Resources mining company went missing over the jungle Saturday on a flight from Yaounde, Cameroon's capital, to Yangadou in Congo-Brazzaville.
"Ten bodies have been taken out of the wreckage. The search is continuing for the last," Alphonse Pepa of the Congolese Transport and Civil Aviation ministry told AFP.
"The decision on where the bodies will be taken will be made tomorrow (Tuesday)," he said.
Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has warned that retrieving the bodies could be "regrettably painstaking" after a chartered twin turboprop went down in Congo's thick jungle at the weekend. The deaths of so many key people from Sundance Resources has left the mining company in crisis.
Congolese civil aviation chief Michel Ambendet said the plane had been found at Dima, an area around 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Yangadou.
Six Australians, two British, two French and one US national were on the twin turboprop Casa C212 plane, which had been chartered by Sundance.
Cameroonian Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary confirmed that the wreckage was found in Congo and earlier said there were no survivors, but later said that rescuers had yet to recover all the bodies.
The French military had earlier joined the frantic search in thick forest on the Cameroon-Congo border, while Congo-Brazzaville authorities said they would call on pygmy tribesmen to join the hunt.
Fog over the jungle hampered efforts to locate the plane using two Cameroon government helicopters along with a French military C-160 transporter and Cougar helicopter.
Australian, American and Canadian officials had also been said to be helping.
Sundance's ex-chairman, George Jones, said the board had shared the flight as Talbot's private jet was unable to land on the airstrip at Yangadou, a remote mining town where only small planes can land.
"It's unusual for an entire board. It actually breaches corporate governance and obviously relates to the fact they could only get on one plane," Jones told Fairfax Radio.
Sundance, an iron ore miner, halted its African operations and had ordered staff to help find the plane carrying Talbot, whose fortune is estimated at 965 million Australian dollars (840 million US dollars) by BRW business magazine.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had expressed his concern on Monday.
Ground controllers lost contact with the plane shortly after it took off from Yaounde. As well as Talbot, the four other members of the Sundance board, Geoff Wedlock, Don Lewis, Craig Oliver and John Carr-Greg, were on the plane.
Natasha Flason Brian, a French woman based in Australia who worked for Sundance, a consultant and a British citizen and the British pilot were also on board.
Trading in Sundance shares was halted and chief financial officer Peter Canterbury was named acting chief executive.
"This is a deeply distressing time for the families of the missing, their friends and work colleagues," Canterbury said.
Reports said Talbot, a truck driver's son, first made his fortune through a network of pubs before founding mining company Macarthur Coal. He left Macarthur over corruption charges and was due to go on trial in August.
Company chairman Wedlock was an ex-head of BHP Billiton's iron ore division, while Flason Brian was an executive with Talbot's resources investment company, Talbot Group.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia's High Commissioner to Nigeria had been sent to Cameroon along with two other officials.
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