The governments of three countries – Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Gabon – are searching for a missing aircraft carrying mining executives from an Australian company which is developing a large iron ore project in the region.
The aircraft, carrying nine passengers and two crew members, was flying from Yaoundé to Yangadou in the northern Republic of Congo when it disappeared, according to a statement issued by the West Australian-based company, Sundance Resources Limited.
Among those missing is the company's chairman, its chief executive officer and Australian coal mining tycoon, Ken Talbot.
"A comprehensive multi-national air and ground search effort is being coordinated by the Cameroon, Gabonese and Congolese authorities, with support from Australian, Canadian and United States of America foreign officials," the company said.
"This search commenced at 1000hrs local time on Sunday 20 June 2010 and ceased for the day at sundown. At the time of the search ceasing for the evening, the missing aircraft had not been located. Contingent on favourable weather conditions, the search will recommence at first light today (Monday)."
It said all its operations in Cameroon had been suspended while its staff took part in the search, and it had asked the Australian stock market to halt trading in its shares.
The chartered aircraft went missing on Saturday. The company said the passengers were visiting Sundance iron ore projects in Cameroon and Congo, as well as having "high-level meetings with various government representatives of both countries."
The company's website says it is carrying out "a significant exploration program and feasibility studies" with a view to launching an iron ore production and export operation named the "Mbalam Iron Ore Project". The project is close to another – the Belinga project – being developed in Gabon by a Chinese company.
"The Mbalam and Belinga Projects form part of an emerging iron ore province – extending through the Republic of Cameroon, the Congo Republic and Gabon," the company says. "Sundance aims to secure iron ore sales contracts with the world's major steel producers. This will include mills in Europe – which are strategically located for supply from the Mbalam project – as well as in China, India and the Middle East."
The company did not name all the passengers on the flight but said its missing executives were Geoff Wedlock, Sundance's chairman, Don Lewis, the chief executive officer, John Carr-Gregg, the company secretary and non-executive directors Ken Talbot, John Jones and Craig Oliver. The passengers comprised Australians and an American, a British and a French citizen.