MAGETAN, Indonesia (Reuters) - An Indonesian military transport plane carrying 110 passengers and crew crashed and burst into flames in East Java Wednesday, killing at least 98 people on board and on the ground, officials said.
The C-130 Hercules aircraft ploughed into several houses on the ground, scattering debris and sending flames and billowing smoke into the air, in the latest of a series of air disasters in a country with a poor air safety record.
Air force spokesman Bambang Soelistyo said that 98 people had been killed, including two on the ground, while there were 15 survivors.
“Some victims are still at the crash site,” said Soelistyo. He said the plane, with 11 crew and 99 passengers, had crashed about 6.5 km (4 miles) from the Iswahyudi air force base in East Java while preparing to land.
National military spokesman Sagom Tamboen told a news conference the aircraft had been in good condition and the weather was clear before the crash. But army chief Djoko Santoso later said there had been fog around the time of the crash.
The plane had been on a regular flight from Jakarta to the Iswahyudi air base in Magetan to transport military personnel and their families. It had been due to fly on to Sulawesi and Papua.
Television footage from the scene showed people desperately trying to extinguish flames with buckets of water.
“I heard a thunderous sound, like a car roaring past. I looked out and a huge plane had crashed into a clump of bamboo. The left wing landed in front of my house,” eyewitness Sutrisno, who like many Indonesians uses one name, told Reuters.
An official at the scene, who asked not to be named, said there were still three bodies at the site yet to be evacuated.
“About 15 metres (50 ft) of the tail is still intact, but the body to the front is broken and burnt,” said Suwardi, a local official in Magetan, who said the crash took place at about 6:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m. British time), between Madiun and Magetan, about 150 km (90 miles) southwest of Indonesia’s second-biggest city of Surabaya.
Some relatives of the victims were sobbing and praying at the air force hospital in Madiun, where there were around 18 bodies.
Agus Yulianto, an eyewitness, told the Kompas newspaper website (www.kompas.com ) the plane appeared to tilt in the air and objects rained down from the aircraft before it crashed.
“Some things were falling, like bolts and axle nuts from the plane. The plane kept nosediving and finally crashed on two houses,” said Yulianto.
Purwanto, a survivor of the disaster, told Metro TV that the plane crashed and then later exploded. He was speaking from a hospital bed with his head heavily bandaged.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged people not to jump to conclusions before an investigation was completed.
“Don’t quickly decide this accident is because of this or that, whether it’s the machine, the weather, human error or another factor,” Yudhoyono told a business forum in Jakarta.
Yudhoyono said there should be extra measures to ensure flight safety had the highest priority.
Separately, Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono told reporters that maintenance should be 20 to 25 percent of the military budget but was below 10 percent due to limited resources.
Former air force chief Chappy Hakim told Reuters the plane that crashed was U.S.-made and built in the 1980s.
Indonesia has a poor record of air safety and maintenance and has suffered a string of accidents in recent years affecting both commercial and military aircraft.
Last month, 24 military personnel and crew died after a military Fokker 28 aircraft carrying parachute trainees crashed into a hangar at a base in West Java.
In recent years there have also been a series of deadly crashes involving commercial passenger planes. Indonesian airlines are currently banned from European Union airspace over safety concerns.
Additional reporting by Telly Nathalia, Olivia Rondonuwu and Sunanda Creagh in JAKARTA; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Paul Tait