Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Indonesia air crash kills scores

An Indonesian military transport plane carrying troops and their families has crashed on the island of Java, killing at least 98 people, officials say.

At least two people died on the ground as the plane hit houses before skidding into a rice field where it caught fire.

The plane, en route from Jakarta to eastern Java, was preparing to land at a nearby military base.

It is not yet confirmed what caused the crash, but local people said they heard explosions and saw a wing fall off.

The C-130 Hercules had been carrying about 110 passengers and crew. At least 10 children were reported to have been on board.

About 15 passengers - some with serious burns - survived, officials said.

Smoking debris

The plane was due to land at Iswahyudi air force base and struck houses in the village of Geplak, a few kilometres away, at about 0630 local time (2330 GMT).

The aircraft was almost completely destroyed in the crash; wreckage was strewn across rice fields and only the tail was left intact.

Rescue teams have been pulling the dead and injured from the smoking debris.

Eyewitnesses spoke of a big explosion before the plane came down near the town of Madiun.

"I heard at least two big explosions and saw flashes of fire inside the plane," a man working in a nearby rice field said, quoted by AP news agency.

"The wing snapped off and fell to the ground," he said.

Another local said nuts and bolts also fell from the sky.

One survivor said it felt like the plane's engines just stopped and then the aircraft began to break apart in mid-air.

The man, who was interviewed on local TV, was thrown clear of the plane as it came down.

Another who survived but was trapped in the wreckage said he heard several blasts, "then it (the plane) started wobbling from left to right," AP reported.

"It crashed to the ground and I was pinned under several people. I heard screaming before losing consciousness," the soldier said from his bed at a military hospital.

Poor record

Investigators have been sent to find out what caused the crash.

Landing conditions were good, the aircraft was believed to be in good repair and there was contact with the crew just moments before the plane went down, a military spokesman said.

Indonesia's air force has long complained of being underfunded and handicapped by a US ban on weapons sales, correspondents say. The ban has recently been lifted.

It has suffered a series of accidents, including one involving a Fokker 27 plane that crashed into an airport hangar in western Java last month, killing all 24 aboard.

An Indonesian air force Hercules overshot the runway at Wamena airport in Papua on 10 May. One person was reportedly injured in that incident.

In response, the air force said it would check its Hercules fleet, which is being upgraded with airframe and engine capability improvements.

There have also been a number of commercial airline crashes in Indonesia in recent years, killing more than 250 people.

In 2007, all Indonesian airlines including national carrier Garuda were banned from the European Union for safety reasons.