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Survivors say plane too fast in landing

March 08, 2007|From the Associated Press

YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA — Survivors of the fiery crash landing Wednesday of a Boeing 737-400 said the plane appeared to be going too fast and shook violently before it touched down, lurched off the runway and exploded in flames, killing at least 21 people.

More than 110 dazed and bloodied survivors staggered from the Indonesian jetliner after it broke through a fence and came to rest in a rice paddy. Most escaped without major injuries, although several suffered burns and broken bones.

Those killed were trapped in the wreckage of the Garuda Airlines plane after it suddenly caught fire. Two people among the plane's 140 passengers and crew were missing.

Alessandro Bertellotti, a journalist with Italian broadcaster RAI, said the plane was going at a "crazy speed" as it approached Yogyakarta airport after a 50-minute flight from Jakarta, also on the island of Java and the nation's capital.

"It was going into a dive, and I was certain we would crash on the ground.... It literally bounced on the strip," he told the Italian news agency ANSA.

A man who lives 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 one name. "I saw a man -- I think he was the pilot -- shouting, 'Get out! Get out!' Some people were on fire."

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 smoke poured from the fuselage. An explosion and fireball then ripped through the air, apparently as the fire reached a fuel tank.

"I thanked God I survived. But then people started yelling, 'Fire! Fire!" said Nuniek Sufithri, who is 10 weeks pregnant. "I tried to get out but was trampled by the other passengers ... someone pulled me up, carried me to the back door and threw me out."

Sufithri, 30, was rushed to a hospital after a stranger found her in the rice paddy. She suffered no major injuries and did not miscarry.

About 19 foreigners were on the flight, nine of them Australian diplomats, journalists and security officials visiting Indonesia for an antiterrorism conference. Indonesian officials said at least two Australians were among the dead: a reporter and an embassy employee, according to the journalist's assistant and the Indonesian state news agency Antara.

Indonesia's government ordered an investigation of the crash, the latest in a series of accidents in the country. On New Year's Day, a jet plummeted into the sea, killing all 102 people aboard. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appointed the security minister to look into possible "nontechnical" causes for Wednesday's crash, said spokesman Andi Mallarangeng, an apparent reference to sabotage.

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