View Mobile Site

More than 100 survive crash-landing of jetliner in Indonesia

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia — Like many passengers on her flight, Nuniek Sufithri thanked God she was alive after the Boeing 737-400 made a terrifying descent and lurched off the runway, bouncing several times before plowing through a fence.
    Then the jetliner burst into flames, sending panic through the rows of seats.
    ‘‘People started yelling ’Fire! Fire!’’ said Sufithri, who is 10 weeks pregnant. ‘‘I tried to get out, but was trampled ... someone pulled me up, carried me to the back door and threw me out.’’
    At least 21 people were killed in the burning wreckage of the Garuda Airlines plane after it crash-landed Wednesday at Yogyakarta airport on Java island, the latest in a string of recent plane crashes that has cast doubt on the safety of Indonesia’s airline industry.
    About 115 others escaped through emergency exits as black smoke billowed behind them, and two passengers were missing, officials said. Most survivors escaped without major injuries, although several suffered burns and broken bones.
    Sufithri, 30, was rushed to a hospital after a stranger swept her up from a rice paddy. She suffered no major injuries and did not miscarry.
    Wayan Sukarda, an Indonesian cameraman for Australia’s Seven Network, managed to scramble off the plane, then shot dramatic video of dazed passengers fleeing as black smoke and orange flames poured from the fuselage behind them.
    An explosion and fireball then ripped through the air, apparently as the fire reached a fuel tank, the footage showed.
    Sukarda had called the network as the plane was crashing, a colleague told The West Australian newspaper. ‘‘He was screaming, ’The plane’s crashing.’ I thought he must have seen another plane crash. I didn’t know it was the one he was on. You could hear all the alarms and sirens going off, people screaming,’’ said Channel Seven’s Danny Sim.
    A man who lived near the crash site said the plane reached the end of the runway and then ‘‘jumped in the air.’’
    ‘‘I heard a loud noise and saw flames,’’ said Subarno, who like many Indonesians uses a single name. ‘‘I saw a man — I think he was the pilot — shouting ’Get out! Get out!’ Some people were on fire. Not long after, there were three explosions.’’
    Of the 140 people on the plane, about 19 were foreigners, including nine Australian diplomats, journalists and security officials visiting for an anti-terrorism conference. Indonesian officials said at least two Australians were among the dead: a financial reporter and an embassy employee, said the journalist’s assistant and the state news agency Antara.
    ‘‘It is a terrible tragedy,’’ Australian Prime Minister John Howard told a nationally televised news conference. ‘‘Many lives have been lost, and our love and sympathy and condolences go to those who are suffering distress and grief.’’
    The Indonesian government ordered an investigation into the crash, the third involving a commercial jetliner in as many months. On New Year’s Day, a jet plummeted into the sea, killing all 102 people on board. Weeks later, a plane broke apart on landing, though there were no casualties.
    In response to the accidents, the government has said it would ban commercial airlines from operating planes more than 10 years old, but most experts say maintenance must be improved and the number of flights per day limited to reduce the amount of stress on planes.
    Some have also called for Transportation Minister Hatta Radjasa to resign.
    ‘‘He should not be allowed to wash his hands of this,’’ Burhanuddin Napitulu, senior lawmaker from Indonesia’s ruling party. ‘‘The public has lost all trust. They are too scared to take planes, trains or ferries any more because the disasters are never-ending.’’
    Dozens of airlines have emerged since Indonesia started deregulating the industry in the late 1990s, and the rapid expansion has raised concerns that growth has outpaced the supply of trained aviation professionals, regulatory oversight, parts and ground infrastructure.
    Although Garuda has had nine plane crashes in the past 30 years, killing 330, the airline has made strides recently on improving its safety regulations and training pilots. It had not had a major crash in a decade.
    Survivors said the Garuda flight, which had taken off 50 minutes earlier from the capital Jakarta, shook violently as it approached Yogyakarta airport too fast in clear weather. It then shot off the runway and bounced several times before coming to rest in a rice field.
    ‘‘The plane landed at a crazy speed. It was going into a dive and I was certain we would crash on the ground,’’ Alessandro Bertellotti, a journalist with Italian broadcaster RAI, told the ANSA news agency. ‘‘I was sitting behind the wing. ... I saw that the pilot was trying to stop it, but it was too fast. It literarily bounced on the strip.’’
    He told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the jet ‘‘kept rolling even after we reached the end of the runway.’’
    ‘‘It got dark, objects started flying around, people started screaming. I remember that I kept cool, thinking only about escaping, nothing else,’’ he said.
    Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appointed the security minister to look into possible ‘‘nontechnical’’ causes for the crash, said spokesman Andi Mallarangeng, an apparent reference to sabotage.
    Howard, the Australian leader, said he did not believe foul play was involved. ‘‘I have not received any advice suggesting it was anything other than a tragic accident,’’ he said in Melbourne.
    Indonesia has been hit by a string of disasters in recent months. The plane crash came a day after an earthquake killed 52 people and injured hundreds on Sumatra island.
    In late December, a passenger ferry sank in a storm in the Java Sea, killing more than 400 people. Days later, a Boeing 737 operated by the budget airline Adam Air crashed into the ocean, killing all 102 people aboard. And a ferry that sank near the capital’s port last month left at least 50 dead.

Interested in viewing premium content?

A subscription is required before viewing this article and other premium content.

Already a registered member and have a subscription?

If you have already purchased a subscription, please log in to view the full article.

Are you registered, but do not have a subscription?

If you are a registed user and would like to purchase a subscription, log in to view a list of available subscriptions.

Interested in becoming a registered member and purchasing a subscription?

Join our community today by registering for a FREE account. Once you have registered for a FREE account, click SUBSCRIBE NOW to purchase access to premium content.

Membership Benefits

  • Instant access to creating Blogs, Photo Albums, and Event listings.
  • Email alerts with the latest news.
  • Access to commenting on articles.

Please wait ...