Death Toll Rises to 142 After Indonesian Military Plane Crashes Into City

7 years, 9 months ago - July 01, 2015
earch and rescue teams work at the site where an Indonesian air force cargo plane crashed in Medan

earch and rescue teams work at the site where an Indonesian air force cargo plane crashed in Medan

A military aircraft carrying 122 people crashed into a neighborhood in the Indonesian city of Medan on Tuesday, killing all those aboard, according to the chief spokesman of the country’s armed forces. At least 20 people on the ground were also killed, and search and rescue efforts were continuing Wednesday.

By Wednesday morning, 142 bodies had been recovered, said Sairi Saragih, a spokeswoman for Adam Malik General Hospital in Medan, where bodies were being brought for identification.

The military’s chief spokesman, Major General Fuad Basya, said Tuesday that there were no survivors among the crew and passengers. The cause of the crash remained unknown.

Earlier Tuesday, Air Chief Marshal Agus Supriatna had said in a televised interview that 101 of the people on the C-130 Hercules were family members of military personnel, and that 12 military personnel were also aboard. General Fuad said later Tuesday that a total of 122 people were on the plane.

Images carried on local television and posted online showed onlookers gathered around burning buildings at the scene of the crash, with several ambulances and fire trucks trying to make their way through the crowd. Medan is a city of two million on the island of Sumatra.

Marshal Agus said the crash occurred shortly after the plane took off from the Soewondo Air Force Base in Medan. The pilot had asked for permission to return to base, he said.

The plane was making a routine flight, with multiple stops scheduled. “It’s normal for family to be transported on these flights,” said Gerry Soejatman, an Indonesian aviation analyst.

The Indonesian Air Force has had five other plane crashes over the past 10 years, with 155 people killed, according to the Aviation Safety Network website. The deadliest before Tuesday was the 2009 crash of a C-130 near the city of Madiun in East Java that killed 97 passengers and crew members and two people on the ground. That plane hit several houses on its approach to the runway.

Indonesia has a troubled history of air safety, including several crashes in and around Medan. In 2005, a Boeing 737-200 operated by Mandala Airlines, a low-cost carrier, overran a runway during a failed takeoff there, killing 100 passengers and crew members and 49 people on the ground.

An Airbus A300 flown by Garuda Indonesia crashed on approach to Medan in 1997, killing 234 people. Miscommunication between the pilots and air traffic control and a thick haze caused by forest fires were blamed in that crash. In December, Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed in the Java Sea on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore, killing all 162 passengers and crew members aboard.

In April, an F-16 fighter jet burst into flames on a runway at an air base in Jakarta, the capital. It was one of five F-16s that arrived from the United States last year. The Indonesian Air Force said at the time that it was grounding the four other jets while the cause of the accident was investigated.

Mr. Soejatman, the aviation analyst, said the military had complained in the past that an American arms embargo, which was put in place in response to abuses in East Timor, had harmed its ability to maintain aircraft. But that embargo was lifted in 2005 and is no longer a valid excuse, he said.

“We have to look at why this is happening,” he said. “Back then it was easy to explain. Now we do not have an embargo. We have to see if this is because of a problem or if this was just a mishap.”

The C-130, an American-built four-engine turboprop, is a workhorse cargo and passenger aircraft for militaries around the world.

Text by The New York Times

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