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Moments before Indonesian crash, jet pilot blinded by haze

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

September 26, 1997
Web posted at: 10:24 p.m. EDT (0224 GMT)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Moments before a Garuda Indonesian jet slammed into the ground Friday, killing at least 200 people, its pilot asked for help landing because of poor visibility, official media reported Saturday.

The pilot of the Airbus jet radioed Medan air traffic controllers for guidance minutes before the crash, state-owned Antara News Agency reported. The pilot had complained of low visibility because of a smoky haze, the report said.

The plane crashed Friday about 20 miles (30 kilometers) short of Medan airport in North Sumatra.

The haze has been blamed on fires raging in the region's rain forests.

All 238 aboard the A-300 Airbus were feared dead. The plane went down early Friday afternoon about 15 minutes before it was to land at Medan, a major commodities and trading center.

Shortly after dawn Saturday, rescue crews sifted through mountainside debris , but the search for survivors was increasingly grim. "We are afraid there are no survivors," one official said.

An airport official in Medan said a thick haze had covered the airport for the last two days.

There was no official word on the cause of the crash, but one official said, "It's probably the haze, but we're not sure."

Some of the worst fires have been smoldering across Sumatra for months, and several airports in other cities on the island, and elsewhere in the country, were closed Friday because of poor visibility.

In parts of Sumatra Thursday, visibility was down to less than 100 yards (meters).

Airport sources said Flight GA-152 lost contact with the Medan control tower at about 1:30 p.m. (0530 GMT). Rescue officials said the plane went down near the village of Buah Nabar in the Sibolangit district south of Medan.

A Garuda official said 222 passengers, including one child, and 16 crew members were on the flight. Most of those on board were believed to be Indonesians, but the plane was also carrying American, Dutch and Japanese passengers.

Sumatra is an Indonesian island divided into two almost equal parts by the equator. The southeastern Asian country of Indonesia is an archipelago of about 17,500 islands.

Bush fires across Sumatra island and Kalimantan have sent a choking, health-threatening haze across neighboring Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. The smoke has also drifted as far as the southern Philippines and parts of Thailand, including the resort area of Phuket.


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