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Indonesian Airliner Crashes Into City

The jet plunges after takeoff at Medan on Sumatra, apparently killing all 117 aboard.

September 05, 2005|Richard C. Paddock and Dinda Jouhana | Special to The Times

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A commercial airliner carrying 117 people crashed in a residential neighborhood in the Indonesian city of Medan moments after takeoff today and burst into flames, authorities said.

A government spokesman said everyone aboard was killed in the crash of the Boeing 737, which was operated by Mandala Airlines, a low-budget Indonesian carrier partly owned by the military.

Among the passengers was North Sumatra Gov. Rizal Nurdin, who had been traveling to Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, to meet with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, authorities said.

The jet, which took off in the rain shortly after 10 a.m., crashed about 500 yards from the airport and broke into two large sections, witnesses said. At least 20 houses were destroyed as a huge blaze engulfed the wreckage.

Koran Tempo Interactive, an Indonesian newspaper website, reported that eight people initially survived the disaster and were taken to a nearby hospital, but it was unclear if they were passengers or local residents.

Syahrial Anas, a doctor who was overseeing the removal of charred bodies, told Associated Press that rescue operations were difficult. "We're having a hard time getting to the bodies because of the heat," he said.

Also on the plane with the provincial governor were former North Sumatra Gov. Raja Inal Siregar and provincial parliament member Abdul Halim.

Hollan Sianturi, a spokesman for Mandala Airlines, said 110 passengers -- including three children -- and seven crew members were aboard the aircraft for Flight RI91.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known. Mandala Airlines, which has 15 aging planes, has faced tough competition in recent years and been forced to cut services.

Medan is Indonesia's third-largest city, and the area around the airport is densely populated. The airport has served as the hub for delivery of aid to the hard-hit province of Aceh since the Dec. 26 tsunami that struck the northern tip of the island.

Two other Boeing 737s have crashed in the last month, one Aug. 14 in Greece, killing 121 people, and one Aug. 23 in Peru, killing 40.

Indonesia's worst airplane crash occurred in 1997, when a Garuda Indonesia Airlines Airbus A-300 crashed in a mountainous area near Medan, killing 234 passengers and crew.

*

\o7Times staff writer Paddock reported from Singapore and special correspondent Jouhana from Jakarta.

\f7

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