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Indonesia probes plane crash site
AFP - Thursday, May 21
MAGETAN, Indonesia (AFP) - - Indonesian air investigators sifted Thursday through the charred debris of a military transport plane which crashed into homes before bursting into flames, killing nearly 100 people.
Investigators were trying to work out why the Hercules, carrying more than 100 crew and passengers, including soldiers and their families, came down in East Java province.
Officials say at least 98 people were killed in the crash, which completely burnt out much of the plane and left chunks of fuselage strewn across a rice paddy near Magetan city.
Air force spokesman Bambang Sulistio said the dead included 14 children and two residents of Geplak village whose homes were destroyed in the crash. About a dozen people were injured in the crash.
An air marshal -- the air force's equivalent to a general -- and his wife were also killed in the crash.
Witnesses said the plane smashed into houses before erupting in a ball of flame and rolling into a paddy field.
"The plane hit some houses, bounced, hit the ground and then caught fire," one witness told Metro TV.
Several people said they heard explosions or thunder as the plane plunged toward the ground, and one reportedly said he saw a wing falling off.
"I heard something like thunder, like swirling wind and then suddenly a plane hit the two houses and crashed," a local resident told AFP, adding that the fuselage split apart on impact.
The plane's massive tail section could be seen resting upside down and badly damaged in the green rice field, but the rest of the fuselage had burned down to its metal frame.
Burning debris was scattered over a large area and soldiers were helping pull bodies from the wreckage and the thick mud of the paddy.
The crash occurred at around 6:30 am (2330 GMT Tuesday) as the plane was preparing to land at nearby Iswahyudi military air base.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his "deepest condolences " to the families of those killed but urged against jumping to conclusions about what caused the crash.
"At this opportunity, in the name of the government and personally, I extend my deepest condolences to the families of the victims," Yudhoyono told reporters.
"The reasons for the accident are still in the process of investigation. We can't say if it was weather factors, engine damage or human error. Better we don't speculate as to the cause of the accident," he said.
Military chief General Djoko Santoso said there was fog on the ground at the time of the crash because of a "temperature change" but did not say if this was the cause of the accident.
Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono complained that the military's budget was insufficient to ensure minimum maintenance of aircraft.
"Ideally, the maintenance cost should be 20 to 25 percent of the overall military budget but at present it's below 10 percent," he told reporters.
He said he would ground all of the country's Hercules aircraft if the crash was found to have been the result of technical or mechanical failure.
It is the second accident involving an Indonesian Air Force Hercules in two weeks, after one overshot the runway of Wamena airport in Papua on May 10. One person was reportedly injured in that incident.
In response to the Wamena accident, the air force said it would check its ageing Hercules fleet which is being upgraded with airframe and engine capability improvements.
Early last month, 24 military personnel died when their Fokker 27 training aircraft careered into a hangar and burst into flames at an air base in West Java.
Indonesia is the world's largest archipelagic nation and relies heavily on air travel, but accidents are common and its commercial airlines are banned from flying in European Union airspace for safety reasons.
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