Medan crash: Debate over claims air force plane had paying passengers

LEFT: Soldiers and police personnel clearing debris at the crash site in Medan yesterday. BELOW: Victims of the plane crash, who include relatives of soldiers and military officers, being buried in a public cemetery following a military ceremony in M
Soldiers and police personnel clearing debris at the crash site in Medan yesterday. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
LEFT: Soldiers and police personnel clearing debris at the crash site in Medan yesterday. BELOW: Victims of the plane crash, who include relatives of soldiers and military officers, being buried in a public cemetery following a military ceremony in M
Victims of the plane crash, who include relatives of soldiers and military officers, being buried in a public cemetery following a military ceremony in Malang in East Java early yesterday morning.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indonesian air force chief dismisses idea; V-P says it is fine to have civilians on board

A debate has erupted over whether military planes are being used to transport paying civilians as more Indonesians came forward with similar claims despite official denials.

Air Force Chief Marshall Agus Supriatna yesterday again dismissed the claims which surfaced after after a Hercules C130 plane carrying 122 people on board crashed into a residential area in Medan on Tuesday. He has said he would sack those responsible if the claims proved to be true.

Weighing in on the issue yesterday, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said it was all right for military planes to have non-military people on board as the military also carries out "civilian missions".

The cause of the crash has not been ascertained though investigators are working on the possibility that the 50-year-old plane had developed engine trouble.

Those who lost non-military relatives in the crash said the C130 flight cost only a fraction of the fare on a commercial airline.

"If they took a commercial flight, it would cost them one million rupiah (S$100) per person. It is expensive," Ms S. Sihombing, whose two nieces died in the crash, was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post.

Ms Tetdi Pakpahan said her 13-year-old nephew and his father had paid 800,000 rupiah each.

A woman waiting for news of her two sons said they had to sign an indemnity form against any claim for injuries or compensation.

Indonesia is a sprawling archipelago with the world's second-longest coastline, which makes air travel the most practical way of getting from place to place.

"I do not know (of any paying passengers), but… look at it as a community service by the military for less well-off citizens," Mr Kalla said.

Politician and former military man Tubagus Hasanuddin said that the practice no longer existed.

"In the past, you expected such things due to (the poor) civil aviation network, but now, it does not make sense to pay up to 900,000 rupiah to be on a military plane if civilian flights cost 600,000 rupiah and less," he told reporters.

However, a military observer, who declined to be named, thinks it is just a case of people making some easy money on the side.

"From discussions with those in the military, this is still the case - a money-making side project."

The issue of paying passengers has raised the possibility that there could have been more people on the flight. The plane's manifest stated there were 113 people - 12 crew members and 101 passengers, who are military personnel and their family members.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sent his condolences in a letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Home Affairs Minister, and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen sent letters to their Indonesian counterparts to express their sympathies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2015, with the headline 'Debate over claims air force plane had paying passengers'. Print Edition | Subscribe