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Dozens dead in military plane crash in East Java

Latest update : 2009-05-20

An Indonesia military transport plane with more than 100 people on board crashed in East Java Wednesday, killing at least 97 people, according to military officials.

AFP - An Indonesian military transport plane carrying soldiers and their families crashed into homes and erupted in flames on Wednesday, killing at least 97 people, the air force spokesman said.

The burning wreckage of the Hercules was scattered in a rice paddy near Magetan, East Java, about 160 kilometres (100 miles) east of Yogyakarta.

"The death toll is now 97 people and 15 injured," spokesman Bambang Sulistio told AFP as soldiers and rescue workers continued to search the charred wreckage for human remains.

The plane was carrying 98 passengers including soldiers and their families, among them children, plus more than 10 crew, officials said. It was flying from Jakarta to the eastern province of Papua via Magetan.

Sulistio said the dead included 14 children and two residents of Keplak village whose homes were destroyed in the crash.

"The evacuation process is still underway and I predict that there are still some bodies trapped inside the wreckage," he said, indicating the toll could rise.

Witnesses said the plane smashed into houses before erupting in a ball of flame and rolling into a paddy field.

"The plane hit some houses, bounced, hit the ground and then caught fire," one witness told Metro TV.

The plane's massive tail section could be seen resting upside down and badly damaged in the green rice field, but the rest of the fuselage had burned down to its metal frame.

Burning debris was scattered over a large area and soldiers were helping pull bodies from the wreckage and the thick mud of the paddy.

The crash occurred as the plane was preparing to land at nearby Iswahyudi military airbase.

Officials said the cause of the accident was not known.

"The engines were good, the weather was good. Was it human error? We can't confirm that yet," military spokesman Sagom Tamboen said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono summoned military chief Djoko Santoso and Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono to a meeting at the presidential palace in Jakarta to discuss the accident.

Sudarsono complained that the military's budget was insufficient to ensure minimum maintenance of aircraft.

"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.

He said he would ground all of the country's Hercules aircraft if the crash is found to have been the result of technical or mechanical failure.

It is the second accident involving an Indonesian Air Force Hercules in two weeks, after one overshot the runway of Wamena airport in Papua on May 10. One person was reportedly injured in that incident.

In response to the Wamena accident, the air force said it would check its ageing Hercules fleet which is being upgraded with airframe and engine capability improvements.

Early last month, 24 military personnel died when their Fokker 27 training aircraft careered into a hangar and burst into flames at an air base in West Java.

Indonesia is the world's largest archipelagic nation and relies heavily on air travel, but accidents are common and its commercial airlines are banned from flying in European Union airspace for safety reasons.

Date created : 2009-05-20