December 20, 1997 in Nation/World

Jetliner Plunges Into Swamp All 104 On Board Feared Dead In Indonesia Air Disaster

Geoff Spencer Associated Press
 

Divers this morning located the bulk of the wreckage of a Singapore-operated jet that plunged into a river on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. All 104 people aboard, including five Americans, were feared dead.

A police officer said the SilkAir Boeing 737 broke into pieces Friday when it hit the water in a swampy area 35 miles north of Palembang. The plane was midway on its flight from Jakarta to Singapore.

Witnesses said the plane exploded two times in the air and again when it hit the water, a rescue official named Ono said in a telephone interview. There was no way to confirm the report.

Television station SCTV said divers found the wreckage in about 35 feet of water and that officials believed most of the victims were still inside. On Friday and again today, rescuers recovered body parts and luggage from the river.

Channel 5 television in Singapore quoted an official at Palembang airport, identified as Ms. Rukmanida, as saying the crash happened 10 miles from the airport. The report did not say if the plane was trying to make an emergency landing.

“There were no distress signals. There were no adverse weather conditions. There was no mountainous terrain. It is obviously very puzzling,” said Mah Bow Tan, Singapore’s communications minister.

SilkAir, a division of Singapore Airlines, said Flight MI-185 was carrying 97 passengers and seven crew members. However, the head of Indonesian air transportation, Zainuddin Sikado, told the Antara news agency that 106 people were aboard, including nine crew members.

The wreckage was spotted near the village of Parit 12 in a swampy coastal area inaccessible by road, Antara reported.

A water police officer said the plane crashed into the Musi River, which winds through a large swamp on its way to the sea. Most of the wreckage sank soon after impact, he said. SilkAir officials in Singapore said the passengers included 40 people from Singapore, 23 Indonesians, 10 Malaysians, five Americans and 14 Europeans.

The airline said the plane’s captain, 41-year-old Tsu Way Ming, was a veteran who had logged 6,900 hours of flying time. The Singapore resident joined SilkAir in 1992 as a first officer and was appointed captain two years ago.

In Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board dispatched an investigating team to the crash site, including an explosives technician, said Drucie Andersen, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman. She said the investigators were sent to look after U.S. interests but declined to elaborate.

The plane left Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta Airport in mid-afternoon and was scheduled to land at 6 p.m. in Singapore, the airline said.

Mah, the communications minister, said the last radio contact at 5:15 p.m. gave no sign of trouble. Indonesians alerted SilkAir that the plane was missing about 40 minutes later.

At Singapore’s Changi Airport, relatives and friends of passengers were summoned to SilkAir’s offices. Some were crying when they arrived.

SilkAir said the plane, a Boeing 737-300, was 10 months old and was the newest aircraft in its fleet.

The carrier planned a special flight this morning to transport relatives to the crash site.

Boeing, the airplane maker, is assembling a team to help with the investigation, company spokeswoman Susan Bradley said Friday.

This was the second major commercial jetliner crash on Sumatra in three months.

On Sept. 26, an Indonesian-owned Garuda Airbus A-300 crashed into a jungle slope and exploded, killing all 234 crew and passengers aboard as it approached the city of Medan in north Sumatra.


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