At least 137 dead in Indonesia jet crash

A Boeing 737-200 jetliner crashed on Monday into a densely populated suburb of the northern Indonesian city of Medan and burst into flames minutes after take-off, killing at least 137 people.

The Mandala Airlines jet bound for Jakarta was carrying 117 passengers and crew when it slammed into the ground just outside the perimeter of Medan’s Polonia airport early in the morning.

The state Antara news agency said the government believed all on board had been killed. Later on Monday, Mandala Airlines said at least 15 passengers survived the crash.

“The latest report we have here show that we have 15 survivors [among the passengers],” said an airline official, who identified himself as Damdam, at a crisis centre in Jakarta.

Officials at the two main hospitals in Medan said 137 bodies had been recovered from the scene, where firefighters battled giant flames leaping from the smoking wreckage scattered over hundreds of metres.

Crumpled vehicles, bicycles and destroyed houses littered the area, while soldiers and police carried away charred and mutilated corpses.

Passenger Rohadi Sitepu told Metro Television from hospital that he and five other people seated in the back of the plane, in row 20, had all survived.

“There was the sound of an explosion in the front and there was fire and then the aircraft fell,” he said.

Rohadi said he escaped the blazing wreck by jumping through the torn fuselage and fleeing on foot as four large explosions erupted behind him.

Another survivor, Freddy Ismail, told ElShinta Radio from his hospital bed that the aircraft got into trouble after take-off.

“After take-off, the noise of the engine suddenly became very loud and the aircraft began shaking intensely before it suddenly fell,” he said.

The company, which is part-owned by the Indonesian military, said it was too early to ascertain the cause of the crash but that the 24-year-old aircraft had undergone extensive safety tests in June.

“The probability is that the number of victims will be high, including residents on the ground,” Mandala executive director Major General Asril Hamzah Tanjung told a press conference.

“This is clearly a great tragedy,” Minister of Transport Hatta Radjasa was quoted by Antara as saying.

Telephone links with the airport and the surrounding areas of Medan, the bustling capital of North Sumatra province with a population of two million, were cut off following the accident.

The crash killed about 30 people on the ground among the 137 confirmed dead.

The Pringadi general hospital in Medan said it had 49 bodies. The Adam Malik hospital said it had 88 bodies and had treated at least 15 injured people.
At least four injured people were treated at the Bhayangkara hospital, staff said.

Several senior government officials were on the plane, including North Sumatra Governor Rizal Nurdin, who was heading to the capital for talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said provincial spokesperson Edi Sofyan.

The spokesperson also said he had received a report that the acting governor of the tsunami-ravaged province of Aceh was on board.

Mandala Airlines was set up in 1969 and is one of several low-cost airlines that fly across the vast Indonesian archipelago. It is 90% owned by a foundation set up by the army strategic reserve Kostrad.

Monday’s crash was one of Indonesia’s worst airline accidents in recent years.

In November last year, an MD-82 plane belonging to the budget carrier Lion Air crashed in the central Java city of Solo, killing 26 people and injuring more than 100.

Medan’s airport near the city centre is one of the busiest in Indonesia and became the hub for the reconstruction effort in nearby Aceh province following the December 26 tsunami.—AFP