21 dead in jetliner crash

Cause of incident in Indonesia unclear

115 passengers survive

March 08, 2007|By New York Times News Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- In the latest of a series of transportation disasters in Indonesia, a passenger airliner slammed into the ground yesterday on landing at the city of Yogyakarta and burst into flames, killing at least 21 people and leaving many badly injured.

Survivors said the plane shuddered before landing, hit the ground with a hard jolt and slid off the end of the runway into a rice field, filling with smoke and darkness before erupting in flames and explosions.

The cause of the accident was unclear. By various accounts, the aircraft landed at high speed and might have had trouble with its landing gear. About 115 passengers aboard survived, according to the Associated Press.

Wayan Sukarta, a television cameraman onboard the early-morning flight, ran from the wreckage and videotaped the bright orange flames and columns of black smoke that poured from the broken fuselage.

His footage, shown on TV, showed dazed passengers wandering through fields or lying on the ground. Some helped others stagger from the wreckage; others bent over the injured.

Explosions like rifle shots came from the wreckage. People wailed and cried for help; there were sirens and whistles and shouting. A man spoke into a mobile telephone: "Yes, yes, I'm here, I survived."

The footage was accompanied by panting and sighing, apparently by the cameraman, who worked for Australian Channel 7, as he videotaped victims.

Among the passengers on the Boeing 737-400 were several Australian officials and journalists who were covering a visit to Indonesia by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who flew separately to Yogyakarta on an Australian government aircraft.

Indonesian television listed nine foreigners as victims.

Passengers described chaotic scenes.

"I was sleeping and then the plane slammed twice and I heard people screaming," said Din Syamsuddin, chairman of the Indonesian Muslim movement Muhammadiyah. "It was dark and there was smoke everywhere. I saw many passengers hurt."

Speaking to the Elshinta radio station, he said: "Suddenly there was smoke inside the fuselage, it hit the runway and then it landed in a rice field. I saw a foreigner. His clothes were on fire and I jumped from the emergency exit. Thank God I survived."

He said some passengers were trying to get their hand luggage. "I cried to them, `'Get out, get out,'" he said. "I was sitting not far from the emergency door. I felt someone guide me to the right. There were many people inside the plane when I got out."

Indonesia has suffered a series of transportation disasters in recent months, along with continuing natural disasters that include earthquakes, floods and landslides that have taken thousands of lives.

The crash came a day after two strong earthquakes hit the neighboring Indonesian island of Sumatra, destroying hundreds of buildings near the city of Padang and killing scores of people, according to the country's disaster management agency.

On Jan. 1, a plane operated by the budget airline Adam Air crashed into the sea killing all 102 people aboard. Days earlier, a passenger ferry sank in a storm in the Java Sea, killing more than 400. More recently, a ferry caught fire in the port of Jakarta leaving at least 50 dead.

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