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Garuda Plane Crash in Indonesia Kills at Least 21 (Update7)

Written By Syafrein Effendiuz on 7/03/07 | Rabu, Mac 07, 2007

By Berni Moestafa and Claire Leow

March 7 (Bloomberg) -- A PT Garuda Indonesia plane crashed in central Java, killing at least 21 people and increasing concerns about safety of travel in Indonesia, where three planes have crashed this year.

The 15-year-old Boeing Co. 737-400 plane was carrying 140 people. Rescuers evacuated 97 people, Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi said at a briefing in Jakarta today.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered an investigation into the country's transportation safety standards after two earlier crashes. In January, a 17 year-old PT Adam Skyconnection Airlines Boeing Co. 737-300 plane, carrying 102 people, plunged into the ocean off the coast of Indonesia's Sulawesi island and another plane broke up on landing in February.

``It's a serious problem when you have two fatal crashes in a short period of time,'' said Jim Eckes, managing director of Hong Kong-based Indoswiss Aviation, which advises airlines. ``There's a lot of indication that airlines in Indonesia are not being maintained properly or that pilot training isn't up to par.''

In today's crash, the plane's fuselage melted as it was consumed by flames about 100 meters off the runway, according to television reports. Sugeng Dwi Riyanto, a health ministry official, who had earlier reported there were 58 fatalities, said officials had double counted. Riyanto said he had seen 22 bodies.

Flight GA 200 originated in Jakarta and crashed as it landed in Yogyakarta at about 7 a.m. local time. There were 133 passengers and seven crew members aboard, according to Pujobroto, a Garuda spokesman, who uses one name.

Boeing Investigator

``A Boeing air safety investigator is in Indonesia and will assist with the investigation,'' said Boeing spokesman Ken Mercer from Seattle. ``Boeing expresses profound concern for the safety of the passengers and crew.''

Local hospitals were treating at least 62 people for injuries. The injured include at least 26 Indonesians, one Japanese and one Australian, Sif Wuryanto, a spokesman at a local hospital said by phone.

Four of nine Australians on the plane are missing, Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a briefing in Jakarta today. The rest are being treated in local hospitals, he said. Downer, who is in Indonesia to attend a conference on terrorism, will go to Yogyakarta later today.

Old Planes

About 80 percent to 90 percent of planes in Indonesia are over 10 years old, according to PT Lion Mentari Airlines spokesman Hasyim Arsal Alhabsyi.

Air transport is growing rapidly in Indonesia, driven by low fares. The number of passengers on domestic flights probably rose to about 32 million in 2006 from 29 million in 2005, Indonesian transport minister Hatta Rajasa said on Oct. 18. This compares with 23 million in 2004 and 6 million in 1999, Rajasa said.

``The accident may spark fear of travel given that Garuda has been the safety benchmark for the Indonesian airline industry,'' said Bambang Susantono, chairman of the Indonesian Transport Society, an independent group of transportation experts. ``We need a thorough evaluation of what happened.''

In 2004, there were 23 scheduled airlines operating and 37 licenses had been issued in Indonesia, according to the World Bank. Indonesia's sudden air transport development became possible by the collapse of the Suharto regime in 1998. Before 1999, there were five scheduled carriers and a few charter operators, the World Bank said.

Indonesia last month grounded seven of Adam Skyconnection Airlines's Boeing 737-300 planes, a third of its fleet, after the fuselage of one of its jets broke upon landing in Surabaya, East Java on Feb. 21.

On Feb. 28, Transport Minister Rajasa said Indonesia may ban airlines from buying older planes. The government may cut the maximum age used planes can be sold at to 10 years from the current 20, he said.

On Sept. 5, 2005, a PT Mandala Airlines jetliner crashed into a residential district North Sumatra province, killing 149 people.

To contact the reporter on this story: Berni Moestafa in Jakarta at bmoestafa@bloomberg.net ; Claire Leow in Jakarta at cleow@bloomberg.net .
Last Updated: March 7, 2007 04:14 EST