Search ends as focus turns to identification of bodies

Indonesian air force personnel standing near body bags containing the remains of the victims.
Indonesian air force personnel standing near body bags containing the remains of the victims. PHOTO: EPA

Indonesia has called off a search for victims of Tuesday's military transport plane crash in Medan, North Sumatra, shifting the focus to identifying bodies that were badly burned in the fire that followed.

"We are done with the crash site. Our work now is on the victim identification process. We will soon do the DNA tests," Air Force spokesman Dwi Badarmanto said.

Sixty-three bodies have been identified and sent to their families as of yesterday, while most of the remaining bodies and body parts - from the 122 people thought to have been on board the plane and those on the ground who were killed in the crash - will have to undergo DNA tests in Jakarta before being handed to their families, he added.

Police Brigadier-General Arthur Tampi, who is leading the identification process in Medan, said the 63 bodies were identified using fingerprints, birth marks, clothes, shoes or other property on the bodies. The rest were too burnt for these methods. "From today onwards, the identification process will slow as DNA testing will take time. Samples from the victims' bodies must be compared with the collected samples of the victims' relatives, and the process can be done only in Jakarta," he said.

There were 122 people on the flight, most of them servicemen and their families, said Brig-Gen Arthur. Officials have yet to determine the final death toll, or the number of soldiers and civilians killed, including those on the ground, he said.

Yesterday, rubble from the crash was loaded onto trucks and taken to the air force base in Medan to be sifted through for the more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition, two pistols and other materials missing. The recovery teams had retrieved 10 out of 12 military weapons, including assault rifles.

Locals near the crash site at the time it happened reported hearing loud wind-like noises before what sounded like firecrackers going off and then two loud bangs.

"Then we saw huge fire going up high through our window. We didn't have any idea what it was until a relative called me and said, "Get out of there! A Hercules plane crashed there!' " recounted Ms Lenny Boru Simamora, 38, who works in the nearby Beraspati Hotel. "It felt like an earthquake. We were only tens of metres from where the plane crashed. I was cleaning a room when it happened."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2015, with the headline 'Search ends as focus turns to identification of bodies'. Print Edition | Subscribe