Wednesday, May 20, 2009
MAGETAN, Indonesia – An Indonesian military plane carrying more than 100 people crashed into a row of houses and burst into flames, killing at least 93, the latest in a string of accidents plaguing the air force's beleaguered fleet.
Local television flashed footage of fire engulfing the mangled wreckage of the aging C-130 Hercules. Black smoke billowed in the air, as soldiers carried the injured on stretchers to waiting ambulances.
Military spokesman Sagom Tamboen said the plane was transporting troops and their families, including at least 10 children, when it tumbled from the sky near an air force base in East Java province. It slammed into several houses in Geplak village, killing three on the ground, and then skidded into a rice field.
It was not clear what caused the crash.
But air force spokesman Bambang Sulistyo said the plane was nearly 30 years old and several witnesses described seeing its right wing fall off while it was still in the air.
"I heard at least two big explosions and saw flashes of fire inside the plane," said Lamidi, a 41-year-old peasant who was working in his rice field. "The wing snapped off and fell to the ground."
The plane's charred tail and several chunks of its wing and body were scattered across the paddy.
Tamboen said the plane was carrying 109 passengers and crew when it went down 325 miles (520 kilometers) east of the capital, Jakarta. The death toll climbed to 93, he said. At least 15 people survived, Sulistyo said, many with bad burns.
The country's air force has long complained of being underfunded and handicapped by a recently lifted U.S. ban on weapons sales. It has suffered a series of accidents, including a Fokker 27 plane that crashed into an airport hangar last month, killing all 24 onboard.
The C-130s are considered the backbone of the transport wing. The air force has operated the giant planes since the early 1960s, when it received a batch of 10 from the United States in exchange for the release of a CIA bomber pilot shot down in 1958 while supporting an anti-government mutiny.
About 40 more were inducted into the air force inventory over the next 20 years. Many were secondhand and provided by Washington before the Clinton administration introduced sanctions on military deliveries over bloodshed in East Timor in 1999.
The air force complained that many of the planes quickly became unserviceable because of the lack of spare parts. Though the embargo was lifted by the Bush administration, the air worthiness of many is still in question.
Tamboen promised a full investigation of all military aircraft.
There have also been a series of commercial airline crashes in recent years, killing more than 120 people. The EU responded by banning all Indonesian carriers from flying to Europe.