- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

From combined dispatches

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A jetliner carrying more than 130 passengers and crew caught fire yesterday as it landed in the main island of Java, fatally trapping people inside the burning plane, the airline and witnesses said.

A government official told Reuters news agency that 49 persons have been confirmed dead in the plane crash at the airport of the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta.

“We found 48 dead bodies at the spot. One person died at Sardjito hospital,” provincial secretary Bambang Susanto said, referring to the city’s main medical center.

Metro TV reported that a nearby hospital was treating about 60 people injured in the crash.

Some passengers escaped, and rescuers battled flames to reach those still on the Boeing 737-400, said Capt. Ari Sapari, operations director of national carrier Garuda.

Among the passengers were Australian journalists and diplomatic staff who were in Indonesia in connection with a visit by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, said Australian Treasurer Peter Costello in Canberra. The foreign minister was not on the plane.

“There appears to have been a significant loss of life,” said Australian Prime Minister John Howard. “There were up to 10 Australians on board, and not all of those have been accounted for.”

Firefighters put out the blaze after two hours. Capt. Sapari did not say how many people were trapped or provide a number on survivors.

“I saw at least eight corpses piled up at the front of the plane,” said Capt. Yos Biantoro, who witnessed the fire at Yogyakarta Airport in central Java.

Several passengers told local media that there were many survivors.

“It caught alight when it landed,” said Capt. Sapari. He didn’t provide any other details. The cause of the accident was unclear, but at least one passenger said the jetliner had overshot the runway.

BBC World television carried footage of raging flames poking through several windows of the passenger compartment. Witnesses said the aircraft had been gutted.

Metro TV said that 133 persons were listed on the plane’s manifest.

One passenger who survived told local TV station RCTI TV that “before landing I felt the plane shake strongly.”

“We overshot the runway, then I heard the sound of an explosion and ran through an emergency exit,” continued passenger Muhammad Dimyati. “I believe many passengers remained trapped on board.”

Another passenger described smoke in the passenger compartment.

“Suddenly there was smoke inside the fuselage,” said Dien Syamsudin, a local Islamic leader. “It hit the runway and then it landed in a rice field. … I saw a foreigner. His clothes were on fire, and I jumped from the emergency exit. Thank God I survived.”

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