MAGETAN, Indonesia – An Indonesian military plane carrying troops and their families caught fire and nose-dived into a residential neighborhood, killing 98 people and putting the spotlight back on the country's poor aviation safety record.
More than a dozen people were injured, many with severe burns.
Survivors said they heard at least two loud explosions and felt the C-130 Hercules wobbling from left to right as it careened to the ground. The transporter slammed into a row of houses and then skidded into a rice paddy, its fuselage completely shattered.
"People were screaming hysterically as the plane was going down. We were being thrown around all over the place," Pvt. Saputra told Internet news portal Detik.com. "Then it just blew up and I found myself lying in a field, 20 yards (meters) from the wreckage. I couldn't stand up and some villagers came to help me."
"Fire was rising up to the sky," said Saputra, who suffered head and arm injuries. "I just submitted myself to God."
Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, has been hit by a string of airline crashes, both commercial and military, putting it under international pressure to improve maintenance and safety regulations. But the air force fleet, long underfunded and handicapped by a recently lifted U.S. ban on weapons sales, has been especially hard hit.
Just last week another military transporter lost its landing gear and slammed into a house, injuring four people, and 24 were killed when a Fokker 27 crashed into an airport hangar last month during a training mission.
On Wednesday, black smoke billowed in the air as soldiers carried the dead and injured through brilliant green paddies to waiting ambulances.
Military spokesman Sagom Tamboen said the transport plane, built in 1980, was on a routine flight from the capital, Jakarta, and went down before it could reach its destination — an air force base in East Java province.
It was not clear what caused the crash, but President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former army general, promised that a thorough investigation would be carried out.
"I heard at least two big explosions and saw flashes of fire inside the plane," said Lamidi, a 41-year-old farmer who was working in a nearby rice field. It hit a tree and "the wing snapped off."
The plane was carrying at least 110 passengers and crew, including troops and their families, when it went down in Geplak village, 325 miles east of the capital, Jakarta.
At least 98 people were killed, including two on the ground, and 15 others were injured, said Bambang Samudro, chief of the military air base in Magetan.
The air force has operated C-130s — the backbone of its transport wing — since the early 1960s, when it received a batch of 10 from the United States in exchange for the release of a CIA bomber pilot shot down in 1958 while supporting an anti-government mutiny.
About 40 more were delivered over the next 20 years, many secondhand and provided by Washington before the Clinton administration imposed sanctions on military deliveries because of violence that broke out during East Timor's 1999 break for independence.
The air force complained that many of the planes quickly became unserviceable because of the lack of spare parts. Though the embargo was lifted several years ago, the air worthiness of many remained in question.
There also have been a series of commercial airline crashes in recent years which killed more than 120 people. The EU responded by banning all Indonesian carriers from flying to Europe.