A Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 on a demonstration flight with at least 44 people on board is missing south of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, according to Indonesian search and rescue officials.
"The plane disappeared from the radar around the Bogor area. We are still looking for it and we are uncertain whether it crashed," said Gagah Prakoso, spokesman of the national search and rescue agency.
Russian news agency Ria Novosti reported that the airliner was on a demonstration flight for potential buyers when it disappeared off the radar.
The Indonesia military said the plane "fell" from the sky. The aircraft was carrying Indonesian businessmen and Russian embassy officials, the transport ministry said. Journalists were also onboard.
Search and rescue teams were heading to the area, said Bambang Ervan, a spokesman for the ministry of transportation. Bad weather, however, forced at least two helicopters to turn back.
The jet, made by the Russian company Sukhoi, radioed a distress message before disappearing. The Ria Novosti news agency said there were at least eight Russians among the passengers.
The Sukhoi Superjet 100 is a new passenger plane built in Russia in a bid to lift its civil aviation industry from a post-Soviet crisis.
The plane is considered crucial to Russia's hopes of becoming a major player in the modern aviation market and improving the image of an industry scarred by frequent crashes of ageing Soviet-era jets.
The demonstration flight in Indonesia was part of a tour dubbed the "Asian Roadshow" aimed at promoting the aircraft abroad that started May 3 and earlier took in Kazakhstan and Pakistan. It was due to go on to Laos and Vietnam.
In August last year, Indonesian regional carrier PT Sky Aviation agreed to buy 12 of the planes, with deliveries due to begin in 2012.
The Superjet project is a joint venture between Sukhoi and Italy's Alenia Aeronautica, which is part of the aerospace and defence giant Finmeccanica.
Alenia owns 25 per cent plus one share of Sukhoi Civil Aircraft, the Sukhoi unit developing the jet, as well as 51 per cent of Superjet International, which is handling sales of the aircraft.
However the plane has experienced problems while being flown by Russian flag carrier Aeroflot, which has been under heavy pressure from the government to add more Russian planes to its fleet.
In March, a plane had to cut short a scheduled flight after it encountered problems with its undercarriage.
Aeroflot's first Superjet plane also spent several weeks grounded upon delivery because of an air conditioning problem.
Sukhoi is a giant holding with a history going back to the 1930s in the Soviet Union. It employs 26,000 people and is based in the remote Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur and also makes military fighter jets.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|