There was no immediate word if there were any survivors from the crash, which happened in bad weather yesterday in Indonesia's mountainous easternmost province of Papua.
The Trigana Air Service plane was flying from Papua's provincial capital, Jayapura, to the Papua city of Oksibil when it lost contact with Oksibil's airport. Transportation Ministry spokesman Julius Barata said there was no indication that the pilot had made a distress call.
Officials said the wreckage was spotted about 12 kilometers (7 miles) from Oksibil, and Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency, said search and rescue teams were preparing to try to reach the crash site by air and foot.
The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was carrying 49 passengers and five crew members on a scheduled 42-minute journey, Barata said. Five children, including two infants, were among the passengers. Search planes went into the air early today after residents of a village not far from Oksibil told local police that they saw a plane flying low before crashing into a mountain, said Ludiyanto, who heads the search and rescue operation from Jayapura.
Ludiyanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said that rugged, forested terrain and bad weather were hindering the search. Local media reports said all the passengers are Indonesians. The airline has not released a passenger manifest.
Oksibil, which is 280 kilometers (175 miles) south of Jayapura, was experiencing heavy rain, strong winds and fog when the plane lost contact with the airport minutes before it was scheduled to land, said Susanto, the head of Papua's search and rescue agency.
Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed in the past have never been found. Dudi Sudibyo, an aviation analyst, said that Papua is a particularly dangerous place to fly because of its mountainous terrain and rapidly changing weather patterns.
"I can say that a pilot who is capable of flying there will be able to fly an aircraft in any part of the world," he said. European plane maker ATR said in a statement yesterday that it "acknowledges the reported loss of contact" with the Trigana flight "and is standing by to support the relevant aviation authorities." ATR, based in Toulouse, France, makes regional planes with 90 seats or less.