Wed, Sep 07, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Investigators hunt for crash clues in Medan

CHARRED CITY Officials want to know why the Mandala plane failed to take off properly, while relatives want to know where their loved ones are


Investigators hunted for clues yesterday as to why an Indonesian jetliner crashed seconds after takeoff, sifting through body parts and bits of flesh as they worked, as weeping families looked for loved ones among dozens of charred bodies laying outside a morgue.

At least 149 people were killed when the Boeing 737-200 crashed on Monday in Indonesia's third largest city of Medan, 47 of them on the ground, a hospital official said yesterday after tallying the corpses. But 15 passengers survived, including an 18-month-old boy who was shielded in his mother's arms.

Transport Minister Hatta Rajasa said it would be several weeks before the cause of the crash was known, but that investigators would be looking at why the Mandala Airlines plane failed to take off properly. The flight-data recorder has been found, officials said.

Survivors said the jetliner started shaking violently when it reached an altitude of about 100m, veering sharply to the left and smashing onto a busy road.

But some described a loud bang while the plane was still in flight, followed by a ball of fire.

Soon after dawn yesterday, transportation experts arrived at the scene and began sifting through the charred wreckage, which was sprawled across the ash-covered street and a row of houses.

"We found the leg of a child and lots of burnt flesh," said air force Lieutenant Andri, who goes by a single name.

Rajasa asked families of the victims to come to the morgue to help identify the dead, saying experts were having trouble because the bodies were so badly burnt.

"The families know what to look for," he told el-Shinta radio.

Outside the Adam Malik Hospital morgue, around 90 blackened bodies were laid out on yellow sheets under a tent. Sobbing relatives went from corpse to corpse looking for parents, sons and daughters. Others enlisted the help of people who claimed to have paranormal powers.

"I found my son-in-law because I remembered the trousers he was wearing," said Asiyah, 50. "But I cannot find my daughter. I will stay here until I do."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono toured the crash site yesterday after attending the funeral of the north Sumatra governor, who died in the crash.

An 18-month-old boy and his 32-year-old mother were among the survivors, said a Mandala spokeswoman.

However, the woman saw her eldest son in flames. He later died.

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