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Airplane crash kills 131 in Indonesia
Updated: 2005-09-05 21:12

An Indonesian jetliner crashed in a crowded residential neighborhood in the city of Medan seconds after takeoff Monday, killing 131 people, including 30 on the ground. More than a dozen passengers survived the crash and ensuing inferno, officials said.

The Mandala Airlines Boeing 737-200 was heading to Jakarta in overcast weather when it plowed into a row of houses and skidded onto a busy road.

Firefighters struggled to put out the blaze, which engulfed dozens of houses and at least 10 cars, but were assisted by a midmorning rain storm.

The plane was carrying 116 passengers and crew, not 117 as earlier reported. One person listed on the manifest missed the flight, said Alex Widjojo, a spokesman for the airline. Widjojo and Medan police chief Col. Irawan Dahlan both said that 15 passengers had survived.

Zainul Tahar, who is coordinating the search and rescue efforts, said 30 residents on the ground were killed. Hospitals in the city were treating at least a dozen injured residents, officials said.

Many of the flight's survivors were sitting in the back of the plane, said Rohadi Sitepu, a passenger.

"The plane had already taken off but suddenly it started shaking and banked steeply to the left and then bang, there was fire everywhere," Sitepu told Metro TV station from his hospital bed. "The whole thing only took a matter of seconds."

Hundreds of policemen, paramedics and residents tried to evacuate victims, but Syahrial Anas, a doctor overseeing the removal of charred bodies, said flames and the thousands of people wanting to visit the crash site were hampering efforts.

"We're having a hard time getting to the bodies, because of the heat," Anas told The Associated Press.

Monday's crash follows five major airline accidents in August, the deadliest month for plane disasters since May 2002. Some 334 people died in accidents in Peru, Venezuela, Greece and Tunisia last month. A plane also overshot a runway in Toronto and caught fire; no one died.

At the airport in Jakarta, dozens of relatives and friends of those killed cried upon hearing the news.

"I am waiting for my mother but Mandala just said that the plane crashed and she was on board," said Aryati, weeping as she spoke. "Her name has appeared on a list of victims on TV."

The dead included the governor of North Sumatra province, who was heading to the capital for a meeting with the president.

Medan, the country's third-largest city, has been a major staging point for tsunami relief operations in Aceh province, on the northern tip of Sumatra island. The international airport is close to the center of town and is surrounded by densely populated residential areas.

Mandala Airlines is a Jakarta-based domestic carrier founded in 1969 by a military-run foundation. Its 15-plane fleet consists mainly of 1970s-vintage Boeing 737-200 jets. In recent years, the financially troubled airline has been forced to cut services and fares to remain competitive.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered a probe into the crash a spokesman said.

The plane was nearly 25 years old, he said, and received its last comprehensive service in June. It had flown more than 50,000 hours and was due to be retired in 2016.

Indonesia's last crash involving a jetliner occurred in February 2005, when 26 people were killed when a plane operated by Lion Air, a low-cost carrier, skidded off the runway on Java Island.

The country's worst crash was in September 1997, when a Garuda Airbus smashed into mountains near Medan, killing all 232 people on board.

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