Indonesian plane crashes in city, 130 dead


  • World
  • Monday, 05 Sep 2005

By Tomi Soetjipto and Darren Whiteside

MEDAN, Indonesia (Reuters) - A domestic airliner crashed in a busy residential area of Indonesia's third biggest city just after take-off on Monday, killing about 100 people aboard and 30 bystanders in an inferno on the ground. 

Mandala Airlines officials said 13 passengers sitting in the tail section of the Boeing 737-200 survived the crash in Medan. A local government spokesman said up to 17 might have survived. 

Rescue workers and residents surround the wreckage of an Indonesian Boeing 737-200 operated by Mandala Airlines which crashed just after takeoff near a housing complex in the Indonesian city of Medan September 5, 2005. (REUTERS/Avie Erleno)

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." His wife also managed to get out. 

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

Zainul Kahar, head of operations at Medan's search and rescue agency, said 30 people on the ground had also been killed. 

The plane slammed into the heart of the residential area in the capital of North Sumatra province, breaking apart, setting fire to homes, cars and motorbikes, and sparking panic. 

"I arrived around 10 minutes after the accident. Burning bodies were everywhere," one local reporter said from the scene. 

"Around 10 houses were burned, along with five to six minibuses. The plane was torn into pieces, we could only see the tail." 

Survivors on the ground ran about frantically screaming the names of missing relatives, the reporter said. 

Among those aboard the airliner were the North Sumatra governor and his predecessor. Both died, officials said. 

Fierce flames licked at the wreckage as it lay on one of Medan's main roads before fire crews managed to extinguish them. Plumes of thick black smoke rose into the air. 

Kahar said some 20 homes were damaged by fire. 

BURNED BEYOND RECOGNITION 

Medan, 1,425 km northwest of Jakarta, is the main gateway for aid into tsunami-hit Aceh province. It also one of Indonesia's busiest airports. 

Mandala's Tanjung said the airliner in Monday'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 metres from the runway, witnesses said. Heavy rain began to fall a few hours later, hindering recovery efforts. 

"Temporarily, we are saying the cause is from take-off failure but we don't know yet whether it was from engine trouble, human error or weather," Tanjung told Reuters. 

Hospital officials spoke of chaotic scenes as victims were brought in. Most were burned beyond recognition, they said. 

After nightfall, police and soldiers were still combing through the wreckage in the search for body parts. Cars and buses set alight by the plane as it hit the road lay in twisted tangles of burned metal. 

The airport remained open and incoming and outgoing flights roared overhead. 

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. 

(Additional reporting by Achmad Sukarsono, Telly Nathalia, Ade Rina, Harry Suhartono and Yoga Rusmana in Jakarta) 

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