MEDAN, Indonesia – An Indonesian air force transport plane crashed Tuesday into a residential area of a major city shortly after take-off, exploding in a fireball and killing at least 38 people.
Officials warned the death toll could rise after the Hercules C-130 came down in Medan, a city of two million on the island of Sumatra, leaving buildings severely damaged and cars reduced to flaming wrecks.
A major rescue operation swung into action, with ambulances ferrying bodies from the accident site, and crowds of anxious residents gathering around a police cordon to get a look.
Novi, who works at an international school near the accident site and goes by one name, said she heard the aircraft and from her office window saw it flying very low before it crashed.
“It was very scary,” she told AFP, adding she rushed to the site with her colleagues but the wreckage and plumes of smoke looked “very bad”.
Another local resident Januar, 26, said the aircraft appeared to be in trouble just before the accident.
“I saw the plane from the direction of the airport and it was tilting already, then I saw smoke billowing.” Thirty-eight bodies, including a child, had so far been brought to a hospital in Medan, said Eko Triandi, a Red Cross official who was assisting emergency teams at the hospital.
“Based on reports, there are many victims still in the field,” he said.
The military has said the plane was carrying 12 crew members. It was not clear how many of the victims were from the plane and how many were on the ground.
Poor air safety record
The crew of the plane, which had been transporting military supplies to airbases, reportedly consisted of three pilots, one navigator and eight technicians.
The crash was in a newly built residential area and officials said it was unclear how many people were in the buildings at the time of the accident.
“The bodies have been crushed by debris of the buildings and the fuselage,” said local police chief Mardiaz Dwihananto, adding they were being ferried one by one to hospital.
Military spokesman Fuad Basya said the plane took off at 12:08 pm (0508 GMT) from an air force base and crashed in the city about two minutes later, about five kilometres (three miles) from the base.
It was the second time in a decade that Medan had suffered a fatal plane accident. A Mandala Airlines domestic flight crashed shortly after takeoff in 2005 into a densely populated suburb, killing at least 150 including passengers, crew and people on the ground.
Medan is the biggest Indonesian city outside the main island of Java and a major economic centre.
The Indonesian air force has suffered accidents before.
At least 11 people were killed when a Fokker-27 military jet crashed into a housing complex in the capital Jakarta in June 2012.
In April an F-16 fighter jet caught fire as it was about to take off from an airbase in Jakarta, prompting the pilot to jump to safety as flames and thick smoke engulfed the plane.
The pilot escaped with minor injuries from the jet, which had been due to provide security at a summit of Asian and African leaders in Indonesia.
Indonesia also has a poor civil aviation safety record, and has suffered many fatal crashes in the past.
An Indonesia AirAsia plane crashed in December en route from Indonesia’s Surabaya to Singapore, killing all 162 people on board.