All 113 people aboard an Indonesian military cargo plane and at least three on the ground were killed Tuesday when it smashed into buildings in Medan, North Sumatra minutes after takeoff.
The C-130 Hercules was carrying 101 people and 12 crew when it crashed into a mixed commercial and residential area of Medan, one of Indonesia’s largest cities, according to Air Force chief Agus Supriatna.
“The preliminary information we have, there were no survivors in this plane crash incident,” Agus said.
At least three people on the ground were killed, according to Agence France-Presse.
The impact and resulting fire demolished at least three buildings, including a spa, a hotel and housing units, local media reported.
By nightfall some 84 bodies had been pulled from the wreckage, according to AFP, and the search for victims went on.
Two victim identification stations were set up near the crash site, North Sumatra police chief Eko Hadi Sutedjo said in a short message.
According to one eyewitness, the plane appeared to explode in midair before crashing.
“The café where I work is right across from the place the plane crashed,” Ardanish Septi Briyani Putri told BenarNews.
“When it was still above I saw the plane suddenly explode in the air, the sky turned orange, the color of fire,” he said.
Heat from the fire could be felt in the café.
“The vibrations were also very strong,” he said.
Zari Tarigan, another eyewitness, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the plane appeared to lose power and shake before smashing into two and three-story buildings.
Return to base request
The turboprop-powered plane was on a supply mission from Soewondo Air Force Base in Medan to the Riau Islands.
According to AFP, the C-130 took off at 12:08 p.m. (local time) and crashed about two minutes later.
The pilot, identified as Air Force Capt. Sandi Permana, had reportedly asked for permission to land almost immediately after takeoff.
Indonesian Armed Forces spokesman Fuad Basya declined to speculate about the cause of the sudden “return to base” request.
“There is no official report yet; investigators will clarify,” he told MetroTV News. “What the problem was, the team will investigate.”
The American-made plane, built in 1964, was in top condition and would not have been allowed off the ground otherwise, he said.
Via twitter, President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo issued condolences.
“My family and I send condolences in this Hercules C-130 crash disaster,” he said. “May the families be granted patience and strength.”
The plane was once used by President Sukarno, Kompas quoted Jokowi as saying.
“After several accidents, we must modernize and renew. We will carry out a full audit, because these accidents have happened not just once or twice,” Jokowi said in Cilacap, Central Java, according to Kompas.
Tuesday’s disaster was the sixth fatal crash involving an Indonesian air force plane in the past decade, AFP reported, citing the Aviation Safety Network.
It also echoed an earlier tragedy for Medan.
In 2005, a Mandala Airlines jet crashed into a densely populated part of the city, killing 150, including people on the ground.
“This is a critical incident to reflect on for the Indonesian government. They must improve our defense system and not use old planes,” parliamentarian Mahfudz Siddiq told BenarNews.
“Indonesia really emphasizes quantity over quality in defense,” said Muradi, a professor of politics and security at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, West Java.
As a result, the government purchases old planes at discount prices, he said.
“Going forward, this is homework for Jokowi, to improve this system.”