Emergency personnel removed 142 body bags from the site of a plane crash in Medan, Indonesia, before wrapping up operations Wednesday, but the death toll remained elusive.
Identification of bodies was ongoing, and it was not clear how many people had died on the ground after the Air Force C-130 Hercules smashed into buildings and sparked an inferno minutes after takeoff on Tuesday.
"We’ve completely combed the site of the incident and finished the evacuation process. Hopefully there are no more victims," regional Army commander Maj. Gen. Edy Rahmayadi told BenarNews.
To date, only 62 of the corpses have been identified, he added.
The Air Force on Wednesday revised upward by 10 an earlier statement that 112 people were aboard the doomed military transport plane, amid allegations the C-130 was illegally carrying paying civilian passengers.
Only 91 body bags contained complete bodies, according to local news outlet Kompas, which cited personnel at Adam Malik Public Hospital in Medan, where the bags were taken.
Black Box Located
The 51-year-old plane was on a supply mission to the Riau Islands when it after takeoff from Soewondo Air Force Base in Medan, Indonesia’s fifth largest city.
On Wednesday, President Joko Widodo ordered Defense Minister Ryamizard Riyacudu and Armed Forces chief Gen. Moeldoko to improve management of the Air Force, including reviewing its procurement procedures and flight operations.
"I have ordered a thorough investigation into the cause of this accident,” he added, speaking in Depok, outside Jakarta.
The black box has been located, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Agus Supriatna.
“Although the black box was found yesterday, June 30, it is still in the hands of military investigators,” he said.
Meanwhile, lawmakers expressed outrage over reports that the military aircraft was carrying civilians as paying passengers.
“Hercules aircraft are not for mass transport of passengers. This case needs to be investigated, because it concerns flight safety,” House of Representatives member Hanafi Rais told BenarNews.
"I received a report that there was a passenger who paid Rp. 900,000 (U.S. $67),” said Tubagus Hasanuddin, another lawmaker.
“I am going to find out if that’s true. If it is, it’s very regrettable,” he told reporters at the House of Representatives.
“Hercules are for carrying military personnel or cargo for military operations. This aircraft can only function as civilian transport in case of emergency, such as a natural disaster.”
Agus, the Air Force chief, denied allegations that the military was commercializing its planes.
"Military planes are not authorized to carry civilians except by orders from above, for example to evacuate people in a disaster. Transporting relatives of military personnel is an exception,” he said.
“If commercialization occurred in the case of the Hercules C-130 accident, we will not hesitate to fire” those responsible, he said.
Some Indonesians said it was an open secret that military planes took on civilian passengers, especially in remote areas with inadequate transportation.
Hasan Basuki, 45, a resident of East Java who formerly worked in the vast and underdeveloped eastern province of Papua, said he flew on military aircraft several times during that period.
He travelled from Maumere, in Flores, to Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua, by military aircraft.
“There was no civilian plane in that region, and ground transportation was extremely limited,” he said.
“If the government stops commercial use of military aircraft, they have to be ready for the consequences and prepare adequate transportation for remote areas like Papua and Natuna,” Hasan said.