Tributes paid to crash dead

Tributes have been paid to the 11 people killed in a plane crash in West Africa, which included the entire board of Perth-based mining company Sundance Resources.

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Sundance says the wreckage was found around midnight in the Avima Range in Congo by a helicopter mobilised by the company as part of the multinational air and ground search.

A team of French military personnel including medics were immediately sent to the remote crash site by helicopter.

Almost two hours later Sundance was advised there were no survivors.

Among the 11 people on board the company-chartered plane were mining magnate Ken Talbot, chairman Geoff Wedlock, chief executive Don Lewis, company secretary John Carr Gregg and non-executive directors John Jones and Craig Oliver.

Sundance says the firm’s key focus now is to bring the bodies home, but a 10 kilometre track will have to be built to reach the remote crash site, which could take weeks.

Sundance adviser George Jones has confirmed it was against company policy for the entire executive to travel on the same plane – but the landing strip at their destination in Congo couldn’t take the second aircraft, which was Mr Talbot’s personal plane.

Tributes

“It’s the news we all feared unfortunately,” Michael Roche, chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council on which Talbot once served, told the ABC.

“This is a great tragedy for a loving husband, father, as well as the public persona, the entrepreneur, the industry visionary.”

Truck-driver’s son Talbot first found wealth through a network of pubs before starting successful mining company Macarthur Coal in 1995. He left after being accused of corruption and was due to stand trial in August.

Sundance suspended trading in its shares, while former chairman Geoff Jones has resumed his duties and is vowing to rebuild the board. Chief financial officer Peter Canterbury is the acting chief executive.

“I’ve never lost so many friends in one go before,” Jones told Fairfax Radio. “I had to personally go to their houses… it’s devastated those families and I feel for all of them.”

Talbot, whose investment company Talbot Group owns 18 percent of Sundance, had an estimated fortune of 965 million dollars (840 million US), according to BRW business magazine which listed him as Australia’s 32nd richest person.

“At 59 years of age with his success and wealth, he needn’t have been on that chartered flight on Sat in the jungles of Cameroon, dodging gorillas and trying to look at an iron ore project,” said Talbot Group chairman Don Nissen.

“He could have been sitting on the beach at Surfers Paradise drinking rum and coke. But that wasn’t the way he was. He’s all about advancing his business.”

Asian demand, especially from China, has fuelled a boom in Australia’s resources sector, easing the country through the financial crisis and boosting the wealth of the country’s mining elite.