Dozens killed as Indonesian plane crashes after take-off

Rescue workers in Medan search for victims at the scene. Picture: AFP/Getty

Rescue workers in Medan search for victims at the scene. Picture: AFP/Getty

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An INDONESIAN air force transport plane ploughed into a residential neighbourhood in the country’s third-largest city of Medan shortly after take-off yesterday, killing dozens of people.

Television footage showed the mangled wreckage of the C-130 Hercules, a crumpled burning car and a shattered building that local media said contained a spa and homes. Smoke billowed from the site and several thousand people milled around nearby.

Victims' relatives grieve at a hospital in Medan. Picture: AFP/Getty

Victims' relatives grieve at a hospital in Medan. Picture: AFP/Getty

Air force chief Air Marshall Agus Supriatna said 49 bodies had been recovered and taken to Medan’s Adam Malik hospital.

The plane’s manifest showed it was carrying 50 people, according to North Sumatra police chief Eko Hadi Sutedjo, but the actual number might be higher. Mr Supriatna said there were 12 crew and more than 100 passengers on the plane before it reached Medan on Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s main islands. It had travelled from the capital, Jakarta, and stopped at two locations before arriving at Medan.

Many passengers were families of military personnel. Hitching rides on military planes to reach remote destinations is common in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago that spans three time zones.

Indonesia has a patchy aviation safety record. Between 2007 and 2009, the European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe because of safety concerns. The country’s most recent civilian airline disaster was in December, when an AirAsia jet with 162 people on board crashed into the Java Sea.

There have been five fatal crashes involving air force planes since 2008, according to the Aviation Safety Network, which tracks aviation disasters.

The crash of the transport plane, which had been in service since 1964, occurred just two minutes after it took off from Soewondo air force base.

Mr Supriatna said the pilot told the control tower that the plane needed to turn back because of engine trouble.

“The plane crashed while it was turning right to return to the airport,” he said.

Medan resident Fahmi Sembiring said he saw plane flying very low as he was driving.

“Flames and black smoke were coming from the plane in the air,” he said.

Mr Sembiring said he stopped not far from the crash site and saw several people rescued by police, security guards and bystanders.

Another man, Janson Halomoan Sinagam, said several of his relatives were on the plane when it left Medan headed for the remote Natuna island chain.

“We just want to know their fate,” he told MetroTV, weeping. “But we have not yet received any information from the hospital.”

The C-130 accident is the second time in ten years that an aircraft has crashed into a Medan neighbourhood. In September 2005, a Mandala Airlines Boeing 737 crashed into a crowded residential community shortly after take-off from Medan’s Polonia airport, killing 143 people including 30 on the ground.

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