Thu, Sep 08, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Amid Medan's grief, one couple finds a `miracle'

AP , MEDAN, INDONESIA

Five-year-old Pento Panjaitan lies in his hospital bed as his mother, Maulina Boru Pasaribu, watches him yesterday in Medan, Indonesia.

PHOTO: AP

As weeping relatives prepared yesterday for the mass burial of unidentified victims of an Indonesian jetliner crash that killed 148 people, one mother and father were quietly celebrating: Their 5-year-old son, who had been given up for dead, was found alive in a hospital.

"It's a miracle," said the boy's father, Tagor Pandjaitan, who was traveling to Jakarta with Pento when the Boeing 737-200 started shaking violently seconds after takeoff.

"Pento was sitting next to me and I grabbed onto him. Then I looked out the window and saw that the wing was on fire and suddenly flames shot into my face," the 38-year-old father said quietly as his son slept. "I collapsed, when I woke up he was gone. I was sure he was dead."

Investigators were sifting through the charred wreckage of the Mandala Airlines plane, trying to determine why it crashed onto a crowded street in the city of Medan, creating a path of destruction as it plowed into houses, cars, and pedestrians.

Both flight data recorders have been found, officials said, and will be sent abroad for analysis.

The dead included 101 passengers and crew and 47 people on the ground, but many of the bodies were burned beyond recognition.

Hundreds of family members have spent the last two days at the Adam Malik Hospital morgue, looking for loved ones among a long row of charred bodies. Some women collapsed as they lifted the plastic yellow sheets in search of clues -- a piece of clothing, jewelry, a familiar pair of shoes.

But by yesterday afternoon the remains of 33 people had not been identified. They were placed in coffins and loaded onto military trucks for burial in a mass grave near the airport -- very close to another that holds the remains of victims of a Garuda Indonesia plane crash that killed more than 200 in 1997.

"I've been looking for my brother for almost three days," said Hamzah, who goes by only one name, one of hundreds to taking part in the procession to the airport.

Pento's name was initially on an official list of victims, but his 36-year-old mother Maulina did not give up hope. She went from hospital to hospital, finding her son at Santa Elizabeth's 13 hours after the plane went down in a fiery ball.

"I feel very lucky," she said. "It's truly miraculous."

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