Body bags containing the victims of a Russian jet crash began arriving in the Indonesian capital yesterday as Russian investigators flew in to join the probe into how the aircraft smashed into the side of a volcano.
Rescuers said the bodies of those who perished when Sukhoi’s new Superjet 100 hit Mount Salak in western Java on Wednesday, killing all on board, were badly dismembered.
Officials said the remains of the victims found so far had been placed in 16 body bags. By noon, five had arrived in Jakarta by helicopter and were taken to a police hospital for identification.
“This morning we have 16 body bags. On Friday, there were 12, and four more were filled today [Saturday]. No body was found in its whole form,” West Java provincial military chief Sonny Widjaja said yesterday.
Each bag could contain the remains of more than one victim, he said. Officials said on Friday that 12 bodies had been found.
As the bodies arrived at Jakarta’s Halim Perdanakusuma military airport, two Russian jets landed carrying medics, helicopters and experts who will work with Indonesian authorities in the investigation.
Sukhoi’s representative company in Indonesia, Trimarga Rekatama — which organized the promotional flight to tout the new jet — said scores of Russian experts would join the investigation.
“There will be 73 Russian experts, some are here already. Thirty-seven of them are mechanics,” the company’s consultant Sunaryo said.
The company has apologized for confusion surrounding its manifest, claiming at first that 50 passengers were on board but then revising the number to 45. Local rescue officials said the plane was carrying 46.
The company said the final passenger list was with a staff member on the plane, causing confusion as to how many and who exactly was on board.
“We are so sorry about that. It was a mistake. The list should have been with us on the ground,” Sunaryo said.
Questions now abound over why the plane crashed with an experienced pilot as its captain.
Key to the mystery is why the pilot requested permission from air traffic control to descend from 3,000m to 1,828m before the plane disappeared from radar screens and slammed into Mount Salak, which rises to 2,094m.
The Indonesian transport ministry said a control tower in Jakarta gave the pilot permission to descend as the plane approached a military base in a clearing amid the mountains in western Java.
“Based on a report from the control tower, we know the pilot made the request to descend to 1,828m and yes, the control tower gave him permission to do so,” the ministry’s director-general for aviation Herry Bakti said.
“He was approaching the Atang Senjaya military base, which is a safe place to fly low, and we know that he did in fact descend to 1,828m. We think he wanted to show the passengers the military base,” he added.
Bakti said it was unclear what happened after that.
A Russian fact-finding committee said on Thursday there were indications that safety standards had been violated.
Relatives at the hospital wailed as they watched the body bags arrive for identification.
Anton Castilani, a forensics expert with Indonesian police, said at the Kramat Jati Police Hospital in Jakarta that his team would try and “reconstruct the body parts as much as possible,” saying it could take up to six months.
Photos of the plane’s first demonstration flight posted online by Russian blogger Sergey Dolya show relaxed passengers smiling onboard, being treated to champagne, as well as Russian and Indonesian crew members posing outside the jet.