Indonesia sifts through military plane crash wreckage

MAGETAN, Indonesia, May 21, 2009 (AFP) - Indonesian air investigators sifted Thursday through the charred debris of a military transport plane which crashed into homes before bursting into flames, killing more than 100 people.

Investigators were trying to work out why the C-130 Hercules, which was carrying about 110 crew and passengers including soldiers and their families, came down in East Java province.

A soldier stands beside a dead cow in the farming village of Magetan on May 21, 2009 where several houses were destroyed in the air crash the day before (AFP photo)

At least 101 people were killed in the crash, which completely burnt out much of the plane and left chunks of fuselage strewn across a rice paddy near the city of Magetan, air force spokesman Bambang Sulistio told AFP.

The dead included at least two residents of Geplak village who were hit as the plane smashed into the ground, he said. There were 15 survivors.

The plane was flying from the capital Jakarta to eastern Papua province via Magetan.

An air marshal -- the air force's equivalent to a general -- and his wife were among those killed in the crash.

"We have started with the initial investigations, we have to wait to see what happened," Sulistio said.

A senior officer at the nearby Iswahyudi airbase, Nanang, said heavy machinery had been brought in to clear the wreckage, and that all the bodies had been collected and sent to the victims' homes for burial.

Investigators had been sent from Jakarta to determine the cause of the crash but "they haven't found the black box yet," he said, referring to the plane's in-flight recorder.

Local television showed flag-draped coffins returning to airbases around the country under military honour guard.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday expressed his "deepest condolences" to the families of the victims but said it was too early to pinpoint a cause of the crash.

"The reasons for the accident are still in the process of investigation. We can't say if it was weather factors, engine damage or human error. Better we don't speculate as to the cause of the accident," he said.

The crash is the second accident involving a Hercules in two weeks. Another of the transport planes skidded off the runway in the Papuan highland town of Wamena on May 10, reportedly injuring one person.

Twenty-four military personnel were also killed early last month when their Fokker 27 training plane slammed into a hangar and burst into flames at an air base in West Java.

Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono complained Wednesday that the military's budget was too small to pay for proper aircraft maintenance.

"Ideally, the maintenance cost should be 20 to 25 percent of the overall military budget but at present it's below 10 percent," he told reporters.

Indonesia, a nation of more than 17,000 islands, relies heavily on air travel but is plagued by one of Asia's worst safety records. Its commercial airlines are banned from flying in European Union airspace for safety reasons.

Source: AFP

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