Plane 'looked to be in trouble soon after taking off'

Indonesian rescue workers retrieving a body from the scene of the air crash in Medan yesterday. All 113 people on board the military plane perished in the crash.
Indonesian rescue workers retrieving a body from the scene of the air crash in Medan yesterday. All 113 people on board the military plane perished in the crash.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

An ill-fated Indonesian military plane that crashed in the Sumatran city of Medan yesterday was flying very low and appeared to be in trouble soon after it took off, several eyewitnesses said.

After taking off, the plane reportedly made a right turn, then stalled and crashed two minutes later.

"I saw the plane from the direction of the airport and it was tilting already, then I saw smoke billowing," said local resident Januar, 26.

All 113 people on board the plane died in the crash.


The plane hit buildings and cars before smashing into a hotel and a sauna.

"It passed overhead a few times, really low," said Ms Elfrida Efi, a receptionist at Golden Eleven Hotel, near the accident site.

"There was fire and black smoke. The third time it came by it crashed into the roof of the hotel and exploded straight away."

Ms Novi, who works at an international school in the area, said she heard the aircraft from her office window as it flew by.

She and her colleagues saw plumes of smoke after the crash, so they rushed to the site. "It was very scary," she said.

The Lockheed C-130B Hercules had left Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusumah airport early yesterday morning, making stopovers in Pekanbaru, Riau and Dumai to pick up troops and fly them to other regions, said Indonesian officials.

It had been scheduled to fly to Tanjung Pinang in the Riau islands before heading to Natuna islands, which is north-west of Kalimantan.

Mr Jhoni Tarigan, a spokesman for Medan airbase, said 31 additional passengers had boarded the plane in Medan, and others may have boarded at previous stops.

The additional passengers were "mostly families of military officers, especially those who are moving as they were assigned to another area", he said.

Relatives of those on board spoke of their anguish.

Mr Omar Amir, 63, lost four family members - his son-in-law, army second sergeant Ainul Abidin, 35, as well as his daughter and two grandchildren.

He told that Sgt Ainul had decided to move the family to Ranai in Natuna islands, where the military officer had been posted for the past year.

Before leaving Medan, "Ainul said he will take care of his wife and children until death separates them", Mr Omar said.

"They are supposed to have reached Ranai today."

At the accident site, residents gathered around the smouldering wreckage, bringing traffic to a halt. Military personnel surrounded the area, carrying firearms, grenades and rockets, MetroTV reported.

This is the second time in a decade that Medan has seen a fatal plane accident. In 2005, a Mandala Airlines domestic flight crashed into a densely populated suburb shortly after take-off, killing at least 150 people, including passengers, crew and people on the ground.

Medan is the biggest Indonesian city outside the main island of Java and is a major economic centre.

Additional reporting by Zubaidah Nazeer

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2015, with the headline 'Plane 'looked to be in trouble soon after taking off''. Print Edition | Subscribe