Indonesia says 97 killed in military plane crash

By Olivia Rondonuwu

JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian military transport plane carrying more than 100 people on board crashed and burst into flames in East Java on Wednesday, killing at least 97 people, a disaster official said.

The C-130 Hercules aircraft ploughed into several houses on the ground, scattering debris and sending flames and billowing smoke into the air, TV footage showed.

Rustam Pakaya, the head of the health ministry's crisis centre, told Reuters by telephone 97 people had been killed and 15 injured, including some on the ground.

Earlier Bambang Samoedro, the Iswahyudi air force base commander in Magetan near the crash site, said 90 had died.

"We have identified 105 people. Five people suffered from light injuries, 10 had heavy injuries and the rest are dead," Samoedro said by telephone.

There had been 11 crew and 98 passengers on board, including 10 children, national military spokesman Sagom Tamboen told a news conference, adding the plane had been in good condition and the weather was clear before the crash.

The plane had been on a regular flight from Jakarta to the base in East Java transporting military personnel and their families. It had been due to fly on to Sulawesi and Papua.

"The air force will form a team to investigate the accident," said another air force spokesman, Bambang Soelistyo.

Television footage from the scene showed people desperately trying to extinguish flames with buckets of water.

"About 15 metres (50 ft) of the tail is still intact, but the body to the front is broken and burnt," said Suwardi, a sub-district head in Magetan, where the crash took place.

"Earlier we heard blasts. But not anymore, now the plane is still on fire," added Suwardi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. He said the site was difficult to reach because it was on the fringe of a rice field.

The official said the plane had crashed at about 6:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m. British time) around 5-7 km (3-4 miles) from the Iswahyudi base.

Agus Yulianto, an eyewitness, told the Kompas newspaper website the plane appeared to tilt in the air and objects rained down from the aircraft before it crashed.

"Some things were falling, like bolts and axle nuts from the plane. The plane kept nosediving and finally crashed on two houses," said Yulianto.

The location of the crash is near the border of the districts of Madiun and Magetan in East Java, about 150 km (90 miles) southwest of Indonesia's second-biggest city of Surabaya.

Former air force chief Chappy Hakim told Reuters the plane that crashed was U.S.-made and built in the 1980s.

Indonesia has a poor record of air safety and maintenance and has suffered a string of accidents in recent years affecting both commercial and military aircraft.

Last month, 24 military personnel and crew died after a military Fokker 28 aircraft carrying parachute trainees crashed into a hanger at a base in West Java.

In recent years there have also been a series of deadly crashes involving commercial passenger planes, and Indonesian airlines are currently banned from European Union airspace over safety concerns.

(Reporting by Telly Nathalia, Olivia Rondonuwu and Tyagita Silka; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Jerry Norton)

Article Published: 20/05/2009