Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Indonesian Plane Carrying Soldiers, Children Crashes

May 20 -- An Indonesian military aircraft carrying soldiers and their families, including children, plowed into houses before crashing short of a runway in East Java today, killing at least 98 people.

The Hercules transport plane with 109 people onboard was flying to Madiun from Jakarta when it crashed at 6:30 a.m. local time, said Sabom Tamboen, a military spokesman. Ninety- six people on the plane and another two on the ground were killed, while 15 were injured, said Indonesia’s military chief Djoko Santoso.

“Weather conditions were fine and the plane was fit to fly,” Tamboen, said at an earlier briefing. “The plane hit two houses before crashing at the edge of the runway, among rice fields.” Ten children were on board, he said.

The crash was the second fatal air accident in Indonesia since April, after a military plane ran into an airport hangar killing 24 people on April 6. Indonesia’s Parliament in December passed a civilian air-transport bill aimed at improving safety in the industry after two fatal accidents in 2007.

The plane involved in today’s crash was carrying soldiers and their families, who were being transferred to other parts of the country, Tamboen said.

The aircraft was on its way to Papua province and crashed as the pilots were trying to land at its first stop 555 kilometers (345 miles) southeast of Jakarta. Metro TV showed images of the aircraft engulfed in flames.

European Union

“I have asked the air force chief to make the result of the investigation public,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said today. “Let’s not speculate if it was a technical problem or human error.”

The fatal civilian plane accidents in 2007 prompted the European Union to ban Indonesia’s airlines from flying to the continent.

A PT Garuda Indonesia plane crashed on March 7, 2007, killing 21 people, after flying at excessive speed and a steep angle while coming in to land at Yogyakarta airport. On Jan. 1, 2007, a PT Adam Skyconnection Airlines plane crashed into the sea with 102 passengers and crew onboard.

The new law passed by Parliament last year requires appointments to airlines’ boards to be approved by a minister and companies to publish safety targets and achievements.

“Air force and civilian flights are two different things,” said Tengku Burhanuddin, secretary-general of the Indonesian National Air Carriers Association. “The civilian airline industry has made a lot of improvements and there haven’t been any serious accidents.”

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, depends on aircraft and ships to transport people and goods among its 17,000 islands. Air accidents in Indonesia have killed 2,005 people since 1945, compared with 1,131 in the Philippines and 285 in Malaysia, according to the AviationSafety Network.

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