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Engine failure suspected in Indonesian air crash
Updated: 2005-09-07 14:41

Investigators probing the crash of jetliner in northern Indonesia say engine failure could be to blame as authorities prepare to bury dozens of the 150 casualties in a mass grave.

Workers combing the wreckage of the Mandala Airlines Boeing 737-200 which crashed Monday in the northern city of Medan found a damaged fan blade, a fault that may indicate problems with the plane's fuel combustion process.

"We found that the fan blade engine was in a damaged condition visually. We also found that the three screw jack actuators came loose from a flap and the wing," Setio Raharjo, who heads a team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Committee, told AFP.

However Reharjo said it was too early to reach a conclusion and warned that analysis of the 'black box' flight recorders would take time.

"No conclusion can be drawn yet. We are still conducting the investigation," Raharjo said.

Indonesian poilcemen stand next to coffins containing the remains of unidentified victims of the crashed airliner in Medan, North Sumatra.
Indonesian poilcemen stand next to coffins containing the remains of unidentified victims of the crashed airliner in Medan, North Sumatra.[AFP]
The Jakarta-bound flight slammed into a suburb of Indonesia's third largest city Monday, seconds after taking off from the city's airport, killing 103 of the 117 people on board and 47 people on the ground -- the country's worst air accident in eight years.

As bodies overflowed the city's morgue, officials prepared Wednesday to bury at least 30 victims in a mass grave near Medan airport.

Forensic experts halted identification efforts at the Adam Malik hospital, with 110 bodies identified and samples taken from the remains of 33 others so far recovered.

Coffins will be numbered and systematically laid at the bottom of the grave for future retrieval if needed, said Muhammad Arief Siregar, one of the experts.

The bodies will be buried next to another mass grave for the victims of a 1996 Garuda Airlines crash that killed 234 people.

One of the survivors of Monday's crash, Fitriani, escaped almost unscathed with her 20-month-old daughter, but described the horror of seeing her four-year-old son burn to death.

"When it crashed, the plane was split open. I saw my son burning in flames and I tried to save him," the housewife, 44, told AFP from her hospital bed.

"I heard residents shouting 'Get out! Get out! He cannot be saved'. I got out of the plane through the fuselage, still holding on to Anggi," she said, calling her 20-month-old daughter by her nickname.

Fitriani said the plane shook as it sped along the runway seconds before it took off, then "split open and burst into flames".

Raharjo told AFP the pilot had not reported any problems before take-off.

The pilot's exchanges with the control tower "showed that everything was fine, visibility was at more than 4,000, clouds were fine, the weather clear and the aircraft fine. There were no words about any engine problem," he said.

He said the remains of the engine and its compressors would be sent to the state aviation industry PT Dirgantara Indonesia in Bandung for investigation.

The Koran Tempo newspaper quoted Raharjo as saying that a problem developing at the fan engine would have led to "the aircraft losing power".

But Raharjo stressed no cause had yet been ruled out.

Newspapers have raised concerns about airline safety in Indonesia, saying a price war between low-cost operators was cause for concern at a time when the cost of fuel and spare parts was rising.

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