A New Zealand pilot has survived a plane crash in Papua New Guinea, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs says.
The Airlines PNG Dash 8 with 32 passengers and crew on board was en route from Lae to the resort town of Madang in PNG's north when it crashed in bad weather around 20km southeast of its destination, Sid O'Toole, from the PNG Accident Investigation Commission, told Australian radio.
"The crew have experienced a problem, the thing has actually gone down overland with reports of fire and there have been some fatalities," O'Toole said.
People from a village near the crash site in thick forest at the mouth of the Gogol River said they had rescued four people, some with serious burns.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation says Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs said "initial indications" were that no Australians had lost their lives.
"Airlines PNG and local authorities have advised that there were 28 passengers and four crew on board. They understand that four people survived the crash, including one Australian pilot and one New Zealand pilot," a DFAT spokeswoman said.
A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesperson said the New Zealand High Commission in PNG was working to confirm the nationalities of those onboard.
"At this stage we are unable to confirm the reported survival of a New Zealand pilot," the spokesperson said.
At the request of PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, Australia has sent four army Blackhawk helicopters to assist in the search and rescue effort.
Airlines PNG said that it had grounded its fleet of 12 aircraft until further notice.
A New Zealander, Gary Toomey, is CEO of Airlines PNG. Mr Toomey was a former chief executive of Air New Zealand but before joining Airlines PNG was running his own consultancy business in Asia as well as a director of Qantas Airways.
Local firefighter Joe Dunar said the crash happened at Gogol, about 50 kilometres outside of Madang.
"All the police and hospital personnel, they attended at about 9pm (10pm NZ time)," he said.
"It was hard to get there. Very dense."
He declined to comment on reports of survivors.
Local villagers have reportedly told the National Broadcasting Commission, PNG's government-owned radio station, there were four survivors.
Duty manager at the Madang Resort, Donald Lambert, told AAP six of the plane's occupants - one passenger and five crew - had booked to stay at the resort.
"I went to meet them at the airport," he said.
ABC Television cited residents in Madang as saying there was a violent storm in the area at the time of the crash.
They believed most of those aboard the plane were PNG nationals.
The plane was a scheduled flight and it was believed most of the passengers were parents travelling to a university graduation ceremony scheduled to be held in Madang this weekend.
Registration details show the crashed plane was operated between 1996 and 2002 by the now defunct Ansett New Zealand and was taken over by Nelson based Origin Pacific Airways until it collapsed in 2003. It was then purchased by Airline PNG.
More than 20 planes have crashed since 2000 in Papua New Guinea, whose rugged terrain and lack of internal connecting roads make air travel crucial for its six million citizens.
A 20-seat Twin Otter crashed in August 2009, killing nine Australians and one Japanese tourist on the short journey from Port Moresby to the popular Kokoda trekking site.
That accident - in which an aircraft ploughed into a mountainside - also involved an Airlines PNG plane, with a subsequent report ruling pilot error was likely at fault in conditions of poor visibility.
PNG has since introduced legislation requiring all aircraft carrying more than nine people to have a cockpit recorder installed.
The South Pacific nation has only had an air accident commission since 2008, established in response to claims that corruption and a lack of funding had led to a sharp decline in safety standards.