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Law & Order
September 5th, 2005, 06:15 PM
Indonesian Plane Crash Kills 104 on Board and 39 on Ground

By JANE PERLEZ (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=JANE%20PERLEZ&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=JANE%20PERLEZ&inline=nyt-per)
Published: September 5, 2005
JAKARTA, Indonesia (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/indonesia/index.html?inline=nyt-geo), Sept. 5 - An Indonesian Boeing 737 passenger plane crashed into a crowded neighborhood shortly after takeoff in the northern city of Medan today, killing 104 people aboard and 39 on the ground.

The operator, Mandala Airlines, said 13 people sitting in the rear survived the fire that engulfed the plane when it hit a busy road 500 yards from the airport in mid-morning.

About 20 houses caught fire and cars on the road, a major one to the airport, were ablaze. People with their clothes alight screamed for help, and drivers later described escaping their burning vehicles.

Several survivors said the plane, which was headed for the capital, Jakarta, made a shaky takeoff and crashed just as the flight attendanthad finished the announcement about safety procedures.

"When the plane started to take off it was shaking," Fredy Ismail, 53, a survivor who was treated at the Adam Malik hospital, was quoted as saying by an Indonesian Web news service. "The stewardess was going to sit down after making her announcement when the plane crashed."

Mr. Ismail said he was in seat 20 E near the toilet in the tail of the plane. After the crash, a wall in the back of the plane cracked open and he managed to crawl through it before the fire broke out, he said. About 10 other people also escaped through the tail area, he said.

Another survivor, Rohaid Sitepu, said the plane swerved to the left immediately after takeoff. "Then a ball of fire came from the front of the plane toward the end," Mr. Sitepu told Metro TV, a major news channel.

Mandala Airlines, a low-fare carrier that is partly owned by the Indonesian military, said the plane had 112 passengers and a crew of 5.

Mandala Airlines is a relatively small carrier and one of the oldest in Indonesia. Its fleet of 15 planes consists mainly of aging 737-200 jets like the one that crashed today, which was nearly 25 years old, the airline said. It was to be retired in 2016.

Among the passengers who died was Rizal Nurdin, governor of the province of North Sumatra. Medan, one of Indonesia's most populous cities, is the provincial capital and serves as the gateway to the tsunami- ravaged region of Aceh, to the north.

The airline said that the only foreigners on board were two Chinese.

The director of the airline, Asril Tanjung, said the cause of the crash was being investigated. He said that foul play was not considered a likely cause of the crash but said that pilot error or mechanical failure, or possibly weather, though it was not raining when the plane crashed, were possible causes.

The plane broke into many pieces, sending burning debris over a wide arc of territory. Only the wing section was left intact. The driver of a minibus, Firman Tanjung, 29, was quoted on the Web news service as saying that a piece of the plane hit his vehicle.

"I heard a loud explosion and flames came into the car," he said from a bed in the intensive care unit of the Adam Malik hospital. His minibus, which he used as a taxi, was destroyed but he managed to get his two passengers out of the fire, he said.

A bystander, Monang Batara, 27, was quoted as saying that he heard an unusual sound from the plane as it took off and he then saw it crash through the airport fence. As it fell, the plane's wheel hit a house and split it into two, he said.

In the emergency room of the Adam Malik hospital, medical staff said many bodies were burned beyond recognition, Metro TV reported. Rescue workers first struggled against the intense heat of the crash as they picked through the wreckage looking for survivors, and then worked in the rain that began to fall soon after the crash.