- Associated Press - Thursday, May 10, 2012

MOUNT SALAK, Indonesia (AP) — The crash of a new, Russian-made jetliner into a jagged, Indonesian volcano during a flight to impress potential buyers threw doubt on dozens of plane sales Thursday just as Moscow seeks a comeback in foreign markets. All 45 people aboard were feared dead.

Search and rescue teams trudged and climbed through the mist-shrouded, jungly terrain for nearly 20 hours to reach the site where the plane roared in at nearly 480 mph (800 kph) on Wednesday, blowing apart and raining debris down a nearly vertical slope.

When the weather clears, all recovered bodies will have to be hoisted by nets and ropes onto hovering choppers, said Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for the national search and rescue agency.

“We’re still searching for survivors,” he said. “But it doesn’t look good.”

The Sukhoi Superjet-100 — Russia’s first new model of passenger jet since the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago — was supposed to kick-start the nation’s efforts to modernize its fleet and resurrect its neglected aerospace industry.

Indonesia, the fourth stop of a six-nation “Welcome Asia!” tour, was one of Sukhoi’s brightest hopes, accounting for a big chunk of the 170 orders taken globally so far.

Kartika Airlines, Sky Aviation and Queen Air — among dozens of airlines to have popped up in the nation of 240 million to meet the growing demand for cheap air travel in the last decade — together were aiming to buy 48.

“Our plan is to order 30 planes, gradually until 2014, to strengthen our fleet,” said Arifin Seman, one of the top executives at Kartika. “But we will wait for the result of the investigation before making any further decisions.”

Others, too, were being cautious.

“It’s too early to say,” said Krisman Tarigan, president director of Sky, which has placed orders for 12. “But we wouldn’t rule out cancellation … if it turned out the crash occurred because the plane was not airworthy.”

The ill-fated Superjet was carrying dozens of representatives from local airlines and journalists on what was supposed to be a quick, 50-minute demonstration flight Wednesday. Some excited passengers snapped pictures of themselves smiling and waving in front of the twin-engine jet before lifting off, then quickly posting them as profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter.

Just 21 minutes after takeoff from a Jakarta airfield, however, the Russian pilot and co-pilot asked for permission to drop from 10,000 feet to 6,000 feet (3,000 meters to 1,800 meters), said Daryatmo, chief of the national search and rescue agency.

They gave no explanation, disappearing from the radar immediately afterward.

It was not clear why the crew asked to shift course, especially since they were so close to the 7,000-foot (2,200-meter) volcano, or whether they got an OK, Daryatmo said.

Communication tapes will be reviewed as part of the investigation. It’s unlikely they will be released to the public any time soon.

Story Continues →