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Survivors flee flames after fatal Indonesian plane crash

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

By Sebastien Berger, South East Asia Correspondent, and Tim Hall
Last Updated: 2:09pm GMT 07/03/2007
  • Video: Java plane crash
  • Timeline: A string disasters
  • In pictures: Second air disaster this year
  • Analysis: Indonesia's terrible air safety record
  • 71 are killed as earthquakes hit Sumatra
  • Twenty-three people were killed when an Indonesian passenger plane crashed on landing in the city of Yogyakarta, but around 100 escaped alive from the burning wreckage.

    Scene of Indonesia plane crash which killed 22
    The plane was carrying many Australian journalists and diplomats

    Passengers said the Garuda Boeing 737 was shaking violently as it approached the runway, and some reports said the nosewheel tyre exploded, sending the aircraft skidding out of control and off the tarmac, where it burst into flames and explosions shook its twisted frame.

    "It ran about 300 metres off the runway," said First Air Marshal Benyamin Dandel, the air force commander at the airport, adding that parts of the aircraft, including the wheels and the wings, were left behind.

    The passengers included Din Syamsuddin, the head of Muhammadiyah, the country's second-largest Muslim organisation.

    "Some passengers wanted to get their hand luggage. I cried to them, 'Get out, get out'," he said.

    “I saw a foreigner. His clothes were on fire. The plane was full of smoke. I just jumped from two metres high and landed in a rice field."

    Moments later, as the fire apparently reached a fuel tank, flames billowed into the sky.

    "Thank God I survived," he added.

    The fire took around two hours to bring under control, and Captain Yos Bintoro, an airport official, said: “I saw many bodies, dozens of bodies badly burnt near the exit. I saw people dead in the cockpit."

    Reports conflicted about the number of casualties. Garuda, the national airline, said 22 passengers and one crew member had died, but a government official earlier put the toll at 49. There were 133 people on board.

    At least 10 Australians were on board, including diplomats and journalists going to Java's cultural centre for an event with the Australian foreign minister Andrew Downer, who was not on the aircraft. Five were injured, and five remained unaccounted for.

    Mr Downer said that two survivors, both in the Australian air force, had told him the aircraft landed too fast.

    He said: "... the two who are in the best health told me that the plane came hurtling in to the runway at a much greater speed than an aeroplane would normally land at.

    "They themselves thought the plane would never stop in the length of the runway, which it duly didn't. They just ploughed across the end of the runway, across a road, hit a bank and a culvert and went into a paddy field. When it hit the bank and the culvert, it exploded."

    John Howard, the Australian prime minister, said there was no indication of terrorism.

    “It is a terrible tragedy," he said. “Many lives have been lost, and our love and sympathy and condolences go to those who are suffering distress and grief."

    The crash is the latest in a series in Indonesia, where several budget airlines compete ferociously for business.

    A spokesman for the British embassy said no Britons were believed to have been on board.

    Indonesia has been hit by a string of transport disasters in recent months.

    In late December, a passenger ferry sank in a storm in the Java Sea, killing more than 400 people.

    Days later in January a passenger plane operated by the budget airline Adam Air crashed into the ocean, killing all 102 people on board.

    In February another ship sank near the capital’s port, leaving at least 50 dead.

    The government responded by saying it would ban local commercial airlines from operating planes more than 10 years old, though most experts say maintenance and the number of take-offs and landings are the most important factors in preventing accidents.

    Earlier this week dozens of people were killed and hundreds of buildings flattened by an earthquake on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. [telegraph.co.uk]