At least 20 killed as jetliner catches fire in Indonesia

Boeing 737-400 was carrying 140 people, including a number of Australian journalists and diplomatic staff.

indonesia plane fire 88 (photo credit: )
indonesia plane fire 88
(photo credit: )
A commercial jetliner carrying more 140 people board burst into flames as it landed at an airport on Indonesia's Java Island on Wednesday, an airline official and witnesses said. At least 20 people were killed, an airport official said. The Boeing 737-400 was carrying an undetermined number of Australian journalists and diplomatic staff who were traveling in connection with a visit to Indonesia by Australia's foreign affairs minister, said Scott Bolitho, a spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has been in the Indonesian capital for several days, where he attended a regional conference on counterterrorism. "I saw at least eight corpses piled up at the front of the plane," Capt. Yos Biantoro, who was at the scene of the fire at Yogyakarta airport in central Java, told the El-Shinta radio station. Metro TV said that 133 people were on board, citing the plane's manifest. Several passengers told local media that there were many survivors. Metro TV reported that a nearby hospital was treating around 60 injured. "Before the plane landed it was shaking. Suddenly there was smoke inside the fuselage, it hit the runway and then it landed in a rice field," local Islamic leader Dien Syamsudin told El-Shinta. "I saw a foreigner. His clothes were on fire and I jumped from the emergency exit. Thank God I survived." Around two hours after the accident, fire fighters had successfully extinguished the blaze, which had gutted the plane, witnesses said. Operations director of national carrier Garuda Capt. Ari Sapari said the airline was still tallying the number of survivors. "It caught alight when it landed," he said giving no more details. 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." Indonesia has been hit by a string of transportation disasters in recent months. In late December, a passenger ferry sank in a storm in the Java Sea, killing more than 400 people. Days later, a passenger plane operated by the budget airline Adam Air crashed into the ocean, killing all 102 people on board. A ship that sank near the capital's port left at least 50 dead. The government responded by saying it would ban local commercial airlines from operating planes more than 10 years old, though most experts say maintenance and the number of takeoffs and landings are the most important factors in preventing accidents.