Indonesian Jet Crash Kills 149

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Tomi Soetjipto, Reuters

Published — Tuesday 6 September 2005

Last Update 6 September 2005 3:00 am

MEDAN, Indonesia, 6 September 2005 — A domestic airliner crashed in a busy residential area of Indonesia’s third biggest city just after takeoff yesterday, killing 102 people aboard and 47 local residents in an inferno on the ground.

Officials said 15 passengers in the tail section of the Mandala Airlines Boeing 737-200, including a toddler under the age of 2, survived the crash in Medan, capital of North Sumatra.

The plane was carrying 112 passengers and five crew on a flight to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

“The plane actually had taken off, but somehow it started to shake heavily and swerved to the left and then wham, a ball of fire came from the front of the plane toward the end,” survivor Rohadi Sitepu told Metro Television from his hospital bed.

“From our side of the plane there were maybe 10 people who survived and although they suffered some injuries, thank God, they managed to escape.”

Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa told a news conference in Medan the number of passengers and crew killed totaled 102, although he gave no breakdown. Officials earlier said 104 people on board had died. The death toll on the ground was 47, he added.

Mandala Director Asril Tanjung said the cause of the crash was being investigated, but added foul play was highly unlikely.

The plane crashed on a road in the heart of a residential area, breaking apart, setting fire to homes, cars and motorbikes. It triggered panic as survivors on the ground frantically screamed the names of missing relatives and friends.

Many of the dead were taken to Medan’s Adam Malik Hospital and laid out on plastic sheets under a tent in the grounds as rain poured down. Relatives walked gingerly around the bodies, trying to identify their loved ones although most were burned beyond recognition.

One woman wailed uncontrollably. A neighbor said she was looking for her 5-year-old daughter who had been walking to school along the road where the plane came down. Another woman crying hysterically found her sister after recognizing her bangle and ring.

Among the survivors was a 17-month-old girl and her mother. Neither had life-threatening injuries, doctors said.

Those killed included the North Sumatra governor and his predecessor, who were both on board. A 3-year-old Japanese child was also killed, hospital officials said. The child’s parents, an Indonesian father and Japanese mother, were waiting for her in Jakarta. The child was traveling with her Indonesian grandmother.

Earlier, fierce flames licked at the wreckage before fire crews managed to extinguish them. Plumes of thick black smoke rose into the air.

Officials said some 20 homes were damaged by fire. Medan, 1,425 km (885 miles) northwest of Jakarta, is the main gateway for aid into tsunami-hit Aceh province. It is also one of Indonesia’s busiest airports.

Mandala’s Tanjung said the airliner in yesterday’s accident had been built in 1981 and was fit for eight more years of flying.

It was not raining when the plane came down some 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the runway, witnesses said.

“Temporarily, we are saying the cause is from takeoff failure but we don’t know yet whether it was from engine trouble, human error or weather,” Tanjung told Reuters.

Mandala Airlines is one of Indonesia’s oldest private carriers, operating a number of Boeing 737s.

It competes in a crowded market since the establishment of numerous budget airlines in the past five years.

Indonesia’s worst air crash occurred in September 1997, when a Garuda Airbus A-300B4 crashed in a mountainous area near Medan, killing all 222 passengers and 12 crew.

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