MEDAN, Indonesia (Reuters) – More than 100 people were feared dead after a military transport plane ploughed into a residential area shortly after take-off in northern Indonesia on Tuesday, in what may be the deadliest accident yet for an air force with a long history of crashes.
“For the moment we know there were 113 people (on board). It looks like there are no survivors,” Air Marshal Agus Supriatna told Metro TV in the Sumatra city of Medan, adding that some of the passengers were air force families.
The crash of the C-130B Hercules aircraft, which went into service half a century ago, is bound to put a fresh spotlight on Indonesia’s woeful air safety record and its aging planes.
Officials said the plane plunged into a built-up area of the Sumatra city of Medan. Eye witnesses said it had appeared to explode shortly before it smashed into houses and a hotel.
An official at a nearby hospital who declined to be named said that 55 bodies had been brought in so far. In the first hours after the crash officials had said that only a crew of 12 service personnel were on board.
Black smoke billowed from the wreckage, and crowds of people milling around the area initially hampered emergency services rushing to the scene.
“We have been using heavy equipment like earth movers to clear the wreckage of the plane,” said Romali, chief of Medan’s search and rescue agency, who has only one name.
“We are still evacuating bodies from the rubble and we hope we can finish the operation tonight,” he told Reuters.
The Hercules plane had been on its way from an air force base in Medan to Tanjung Pinang in Riau Islands off Sumatra. Media said the pilot had asked to return to the base because of technical problems.
“It passed overhead a few times, really low,” said Elfrida Efi, a receptionist at the nearby Golden Eleven Hotel.
“There was fire and black smoke. The third time it came by it crashed into the roof of the hotel and exploded straight away,” she told Reuters by telephone.
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