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MEDAN, Indonesia – The death toll from the crash of an air force transport plane in Indonesia jumped to more than 140 on Wednesday, as officials confirmed a bigger-than-previously-reported passenger list and a growing number of victims from the neighborhood where the plane went down.
North Sumatra police major A. Tarigan told TVOne that 141 bodies have been recovered from the rubble of a residential area in Medan city where the C-130 Hercules crashed shortly after takeoff on Tuesday. The death toll was 74 overnight.
The air force says 122 people were on board, including military personnel and their families. Officials don't expect any survivors from the plane.
Initially, the air force had said only 12 crew were on the plane but had not said how many else were on it. It then repeatedly raised the numbers of passengers, indicating lax controls and raising questions whether it was accepting paying passengers despite previous promises to crack down on the practice. Hitching rides on military planes to reach remote destinations is common in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago that spans three time zones.
The crash of the aircraft, which had been in service since 1964, occurred only two minutes after it took off from Soewondo air force base in Medan on Sumatra, one of Indonesia's main islands. It plowed into a building that local media said contained shops and homes.
Witnesses said flames and smoke streamed from the plane before it crashed. Air force chief Air Marshal Agus Supriatna said the pilot told the control tower that he needed to turn back because of engine trouble and that the plane crashed while turning right to return to the airport.
The plane had traveled from the capital, Jakarta, and stopped at two locations before arriving at Medan.
Outside Adam Malik hospital in Medan, coffins were arranged in several rows. Officers wearing face masks and white gloves carried coffins with bodies that had been identified to trucks for transport to families.
A backhoe has been digging at the pile of smoldering concrete where the plane crashed. The tail of the plane still stands in the middle of the neighborhood.
Indonesia has a patchy civil aviation safety record and its cash-strapped air force has suffered a series of accidents. Between 2007 and 2009, the European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe because of safety worries.
The country's most recent civilian airline disaster was in December, when an AirAsia jet with 162 people on board crashed into the Java Sea en route from Surabaya to Singapore. There have been five fatal crashes involving air force planes since 2008, according to the Aviation Safety Network, which tracks aviation disasters.
AP writers Stephen Wright and Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this story from Jakarta.