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Indonesia begins jet crash probe

Rescue workers try to put out the flames of a Boeing 737-400 in Indonesia
Rescue efforts have been slowed by fire recurring in the fuselage

Investigators have arrived in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to examine the wreckage of a jet which crash-landed in the morning, killing 22 people.

The state-owned Garuda airline, which operated the Boeing 737-400, confirmed that 118 people had survived.

Survivors described how they scrambled through emergency doors moments before fire raced through the cabin.

The jet's flight data recorder has been found. The investigators say technical failure may be the cause of the crash.

Some passengers wanted to get their hand luggage. I cried to them, 'get out, get out'
Din Syamsudin, survivor

The casualties are believed to include as many as four Australian nationals, who were part of a delegation of officials and reporters covering a visit by the Australian foreign minister to Indonesia.

Indonesia's safety record has been in the spotlight recently after a series of accidents, correspondents say.

'Too fast'

Flight GA200 crash-landed at about 0700 local time (0000 GMT), about 440km (270 miles) south-east of the capital Jakarta.

Passengers aboard said the jet started shaking violently before landing.

The operations chief at Yogyakarta airport said the front wheel of the plane was on fire as it landed, causing it to veer off the runway and hit a boundary fence.

He said an engine had then broken away from the plane and the fuselage burst into flames. The aircraft came to rest in the middle of a rice field.

First Air Marshal Benyamin Dandel, air force commander at Yogyakarta, said: "The plane was too fast or over-speeding, so it ran about 300 metres off the runway."

Map of Indonesia

Some survivors said a fire started near the front the plane and then a wall of flame raced down the fuselage.

Passenger Din Syamsudin, chairman of the Indonesia Muslim group Muhammadiyah, told Reuters: "Some passengers wanted to get their hand luggage. I cried to them, 'get out, get out'.

"The plane was full of smoke. I just jumped from two metres and landed in a rice field."

A cameraman from Australia's Seven Network was on the flight and filmed the scene after he escaped from the crash.

The pictures show passengers fleeing the plane as thick black smoke rises from the fuselage.

Flames break out from the jet and then there is an explosion and a fireball.

A number of survivors are being treated in hospital for severe injuries or burns.

The blaze took two hours to put out and gutted the jet.

Conference

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said there were nine Australians on board, four of whom were missing.

... Flames were assisted by the intense fire caused by those oxygen packets that you can put over your face
Robert Heath
Crisis management expert

They included officials and journalists covering his planned visit to Java for a counter-terrorism conference.

Prime Minister John Howard said the country should be "prepared for bad news" as there could well be Australian fatalities.

But he said he had not received any information suggesting either sabotage or terrorism.

There have been a number of terrorist attacks in Indonesia in recent years, many of them targeting Westerners.

A spokesman for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the Indonesian president was launching an investigation to examine all possible causes, including technical failure, human error and sabotage.

Crisis management expert Robert Heath from the University of South Australia said the fire may have been caused by a fuel tank being punctured on impact.

"Those flames were assisted by the intense fire caused by those oxygen packets that you can put over your face plus the amount of baggage that was stored in the upper structure," he said.

The BBC's Lucy Williamson in Jakarta says the incident also comes at a time when Indonesia's poor transport safety record is under the spotlight following a recent string of disasters.

In January an Adam Air plane, also a Boeing 737-400, disappeared with 102 passengers and crew on board, and in December hundreds died when a ferry sank in the Java Sea.

video and audio news
Crash survivor recounts landing



SEE ALSO
Eyewitness: 'Lucky to be alive'
07 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Relief and grieving at crash site
07 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Indonesia jet crash
07 Mar 07 |  In Pictures
Indonesia's public transport perils
18 Jan 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Air disasters timeline
02 Jan 07 |  Europe
Country profile: Indonesia
23 Jan 07 |  Country profiles

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