Papua New Guinea's Airlines PNG has defended its safety record after its second fatal accident in little more than two years - the loss of a Bombardier Dash 8-100 on a domestic flight to Madang.

Airlines PNG had been hoping to return its 11 Dash 8s - grounded since the 13 October crash, which took place some 20km (12 miles) south of its destination - to service and restore normal operations by 22 October.

"The community is right to ask questions concerning safety of any public company or employer," said chairman Simon Wild, adding that the carrier would address these "openly and factually".

Airlines PNG lost a De Havilland Canada Twin Otter in August 2009, prompting the carrier to upgrade the type's avionics. "In recent years we have invested heavily in aircraft safety, and we continue to do so," Wild said.

Flight recorders from the Dash 8 will be analysed in Australia. Of the 32 occupants, both pilots, a flight attendant and one of the passengers survived.

Wild said Airlines PNG had been audited 16 times in the past year, aside from mandatory audits by regulators.

He added that the carrier's Dash 8 pilots had logged more than 16,000h on average, including 15 years' experience in the "challenging" local environment, and underwent recurrent training in Australia.

The airline said an emergency had developed on board before the crash. "The crew attempted to conduct a controlled emergency landing, but the aircraft broke up on impact. Part of the fuselage caught fire," it added.

The captain - a former Airbus A310 pilot - had spent 35 years flying in Papua New Guinea, while the first officer had 2,500h.

There was bad weather in the vicinity at the time of the late afternoon accident, the carrier said, adding: "The investigation will be wide-ranging, including areas such as weather, fuel, any possible mid-air fire or any mechanical issues."

Airlines PNG said the Dash 8 (P2-MCJ) was a 1988 airframe.

Source: Flight International