Plane crash toll rises to 23
By Michael Casey in Jakarta
December 1, 2004
A LION Air passenger plane skidded off the runway in central Indonesia today, killing at least 23 people and injuring 62, witnesses and hospital officials said.
The accident occurred around 6pm local time (10pm AEDT last night) as Flight JT583 landed in heavy rain at the Adi Sumarmo airport in Solo, a thriving tourist town about 500km southeast of the capital Jakarta, the airline confirmed.
The MD-82 plane had taken off from Jakarta with more than 146 passengers and seven crew members aboard, airport officials said. It stopped in the East Java town of Surabaya before heading to Solo where it skidded off the runway, broke in two and ended up in a cemetery next to the airport, airport officials said.
The airplane came to rest about 100m off the runway.
"The plane hit the tarmac and we all started yelling Allahu akbar (God is Great)," one passenger told Metro TV. "I grabbed a woman near me and just tried to reach (the) emergency exit. Everyone around me was screaming."
Solo Police Chief Abdul Madjid told reporters that 23 people were
killed and at least 62 injured from the crash.
Among them was a Singaporean woman and three children, hospital
Firefighters and police officers were searching for survivors and removing the injured to waiting ambulances, media reports said. Many were still in the plane nearly three hours after the crash, stuck inside the wreckage, media reports said.
Metro TV showed a chaotic scene at the airport, with dead and injured passengers lying on the terminal floor and crying relatives searching for news of their loved ones. The plane was sitting in darkness.
"My plane crashed. My plane crashed," one passenger screamed into a cell phone. "I've lost everything."
Lion Air spokesman Hasyim confirmed the crash and offered condolences to the dead and injured. But he said it was unclear what caused the accident, saying it would take a thorough investigation.
Earlier in the day, a passenger plane owned by low-budget Bouraq airlines skidded off the runway in the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar, news reports said. No one was injured.
Indonesia is an archipelagic nation with about 3000 inhabited islands stretching across 5000 kilometres.
Previously, travel by slow boat was the only affordable option for most of its 210 million people - who earn an average of $US4 ($5.11) a day - due to decades of steep fares set by the state-owned airlines under former dictator Suharto.
But when President Suharto's rule ended in 1998 amid the regional economic crisis, the newly elected government quickly deregulated the airline industry.
Since 1999, the number of carriers has jumped to 25, and the resulting price war has allowed many working-class people to afford air travel for the first time. But the rapid expansion has raised some safety concerns, since many of the airlines are small and lease planes that are decades old.
Lion Air - one of several new no-frills airlines in Asia - has been one of the newest stars in Indonesian skies. It remains unclear how the crash will impact on its bold expansion plans.
The airline announced earlier this month that it was leasing the little-used Halim Perdanakusma airport in Jakarta, purchasing more than 25 new planes and adding new routes.
The Associated Press
Photo: Fox News