Witnesses describe horrific scenes of crash, victims on fire

An Indonesian military police officer patrolling near the wreckage of the crashed C-130 military airplane in Medan.
An Indonesian military police officer patrolling near the wreckage of the crashed C-130 military airplane in Medan. PHOTO: EPA

MEDAN • Witnesses yesterday described scenes of horror when the Hercules C-130 transport plane crashed into a residential area, shortly after taking off from an airbase in this city.

Buildings were severely damaged, cars were reduced to flaming wrecks and the plane itself was almost completely destroyed, with the mangled tail the only part of the 51-year-old aircraft still recognisable after Tuesday's disaster.

The recovery operation officially ended last night with all parts of the plane cleared from the site, air force chief Agus Supriatna said. A small group of military personnel will remain in the area to check for more bodies, he added.

Many of those on board the flight, which was carrying 122 people, were believed to be servicemen and women and their families.

But the air force has repeatedly revised upwards the number of people on the plane - it initially indicated there were only 12 crew members. As more bodies were pulled from the rubble and taken to hospital, police put the total death toll at 142, indicating a growing number of fatalities on the ground. So far, 62 victims, mostly military personnel, have been identified.

New eyewitness accounts of terrifying scenes emerged, with one man describing how the plane smashed into a building, producing "flames as high as four storeys".

"Everyone panicked and screamed," said tyre repairman Tumpak Naibaho, 27, adding that there were hundreds of people in the area when the crash happened at around midday.

"I thought it was a terrorist attack or something... I saw one man whose clothes were on fire staggering out of the debris. His face was covered in blood, dust and ash."

People in the area said several buildings were thought to have been destroyed when the plane came down, hitting a massage parlour and hotel.

About 100 despairing relatives gathered at a hospital morgue in Medan, where coffins were stacked up waiting to receive the bodies of crash victims. Some quietly sobbed while others stared into space as ambulances came and went.

One grieving relative, Ms Rahayu, wailed hysterically after opening a body bag and discovering her cousin. "We were so close, we attended a wedding last month but now I can only see her pictures on Facebook," said the 23-year-old.

Her two cousins, teenage sisters Esther Yosephine and Rita Yunita, were killed in the crash and their bodies lay in bags side by side in the morgue. They had been travelling to visit their army officer father in the remote Natuna Islands.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline 'Witnesses describe horrific scenes of crash, victims on fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe