Panic aboard Indonesian plane

2010-04-13 16:14

Manokwari – A passenger has described the scene aboard an Indonesian airline as "total panic" as it skidded off the runway and landed in a shallow river on Tuesday.

Twenty people were injured.

"All the passengers were in a total panic, some even screamed and cried," said passenger Zainal Hayat, 52, who crawled out of a crack in the fuselage and was being treated in hospital with facial injuries.

"We flew safely and the plane touched down smoothly on the runway but it just didn't stop. It skidded very fast and I felt it hit something twice before it stopped and tumbled down," he said. "I got out through a crack in the plane near my seat."

The routine domestic flight almost ended in disaster when the jet carrying more than 100 passengers broke apart on landing in Indonesia.

The Merpati airline Boeing 737 bounced off the tarmac at Rendani domestic airport in Manokwari, West Papua, hurtled into trees and skidded into a shallow river, director general of civil aviation Herry Bhakti Singayuda told AFP.

Singayuda said the plane came to a halt with its tail section in the river about 200m from the end of the landing strip.


"All 103 passengers and six crew members are safe. Some are injured. They have been rushed to hospital," he said.

Heavy rain and fog were suspected of playing a part in the crash, he added, although expert investigators had yet to arrive at the scene.

Manokwari Hospital emergency unit nurse Benget Hutagalung said "about 20" people had been brought in with shattered limbs and head injuries.

Witnesses said the left wing broke off as the plane smashed into the trees at the end of the runway. The cockpit was also almost completely separated from the rest of the fuselage.

The plane was flying a routine domestic route from Sorong, also in West Papua province, to Manokwari, a distance of about 340km.

Transport ministry experts from the capital Jakarta were on their way to the rugged province in the far east of the country to investigate the crash, an official said.

Engine trouble

The state-run Antara news agency reported that the plane was believed to have experienced engine trouble, but this was not confirmed.

Merpati corporate secretary Sukandi suggested that rain played a part in the crash and ruled out pilot error.

"It was raining when the plane landed. The pilots followed all the safety procedures regarding landing in wet conditions," he said.

The vast archipelago of Indonesia relies heavily on air transport but has one of Asia's worst air safety records.

The EU banned all Indonesia-registered aircraft from flying over its airspace in June 2007, acting on a report from the International Civil Aviation Organisation which criticised the country's safety standards.

Four airlines including national carrier Garuda Indonesia were taken off the list in July last year due to safety improvements, but Merpati, which flies only domestic routes, remains banned.