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Australian tycoon's plane found, all feared dead

Rescuers on Monday found the wreckage of a crashed plane carrying an Australian mining tycoon and 10 other foreigners, a Cameroonian minister said, with hopes slim for finding any survivors.

world Updated: Jun 22, 2010 03:14 IST

Rescuers on Monday found the wreckage of a crashed plane carrying an Australian mining tycoon and 10 other foreigners, a Cameroonian minister said, with hopes slim for finding any survivors.

The plane carrying the entire board of the Sundance Resources mining company, including tycoon Ken Talbot, went missing over thick jungle Saturday on a flight from Yaounde, Cameroon's capital, to Yangadou in Congo-Brazzaville.

"The wreckage has been found in Congo. Unfortunately there were no survivors," Cameroonian minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary told AFP.

However the minister later backtracked, saying they had yet to recover all 11 bodies.

"Are there no survivors? We've already begun to recover the bodies. The number varies between nine and 11. It is preferable, as long as we've not identified the 11 remains, to make statements with some caution," Tchiroma Bakary told journalists.

Six Australians, two British, two French and one US national were on the twin turboprop Casa C212 plane, which had been chartered by Sundance.

Congolese civil aviation chief Michel Ambendet confirmed that the plane had been found at Dima, an area around 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Yangadou, but refused to confirm the death toll.

"Logically there should not be any survivors two days after the accident. But we cannot confirm anything at the moment," Ambendet said.

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.