Fri, May 11, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Bodies found at Russian jet wreckage

SEARCH EFFORT:A rescue helicopter spotted debris on the side of the Mount Salak volcano yesterday. Soldiers, police and volunteers had to trek in on foot to the site

AP, CIDAHU, INDONESIA

The wreckage of a Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft on Mount Salak, Indonesia, is seen from an Indonesia Air Force Super Puma helicopter yesterday.

Photo: Reuters / Indonesian Air Force

Rescuers discovered bodies yesterday near the shattered wreckage of a new Russian-made passenger plane that smashed into the steep side of an Indonesian volcano during a flight to impress potential buyers. All 45 people on board were feared dead.

Due to the remoteness of the crash site, the bodies will be placed in nets and lifted by ropes to a hovering chopper, national search and rescue agency spokesman Gagah Prakoso said. They will be evacuated to the capital, Jakarta, for identification by family members.

“So far we haven’t found any survivors, but we are still searching,” he said, as more soldiers, police and volunteers hiked through the mist-shrouded slopes toward the wreck.

“I cannot say anything about the condition of the bodies,” said Prakoso, adding: “A high speed jet plane hit the cliff, exploded and tore apart.”

The Sukhoi Superjet 100 — Russia’s first new model of passenger jet since the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago — was in Indonesia as part of a six-nation tour of Asia aimed at drumming up new customers.

It was carrying dozens of representatives from Indonesian airlines and journalists on what was supposed to be a quick, 50-minute demonstration flight on Wednesday. Some excited passengers snapped pictures of themselves smiling and waving in front of the twin-engine jet before liftoff, quickly posting them as their profiles on Facebook and Twitter.

Just 21 minutes after taking off from a Jakarta airfield, however, the Russian pilot and co-pilot asked air traffic control for permission to drop from 3,000m to 1,800m, said Daryatmo, chief of the national search and rescue agency.

They gave no explanation, dropping off the radar immediately afterward.

It was not clear why the crew asked for the shift in course, Daryatmo said, especially when they were so close to the 2,200m volcano, or if they received the go-ahead.

Communication tapes will be reviewed as part of the investigation.

Soon after, they hit the jagged ridge on top of Mount Salak, a long-dormant volcano, leaving a giant earthy gash along the steep slope as it stripped trees.

Family members, many of whom spent a long, sleepless night at the airport, broke down in tears on hearing news that the wreckage had been spotted, first by helicopter, then by land search-and-rescue teams. Others stared blankly ahead in disbelief.

The Superjet — a 75 to 95-seater — has been touted as a challenger to similar-sized aircraft from Canada’s Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer SA.

Potential buyers will scrutinize the crash investigation for signs of flaws in the aircraft.

“If it’s a technical fault ... then obviously that will be very serious for them,” said Tom Ballantyne, a Sydney-based aviation expert. “But if it’s pilot error or the fault of air traffic control, it won’t be quite so bad because they’ll be able to say, ‘Well, it’s not the airplane.’”

The Superjet — developed by the civil aircraft division of Sukhoi with the cooperation of Western partners — has been widely considered Russia’s chance to regain a foothold in the international passenger plane market.

All but 10 of the 45 people on board were potential buyers and journalists, said Sunaryo from PT Trimarga Rekatama, the company that helped organize Wednesday’s event. The others were Russians, all from Sukhoi companies, a US consultant with a local airline and a Frenchman with aircraft engine-maker Snecma.

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