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Indonesian plane crash raises issue of upkeep

INDONESIA promised yesterday to ground all of its C-130 Hercules planes if investigators determine that mechanical problems caused the crash the day before which killed 99 people.

The accident - which occurred in clear weather moments after pilots spoke with air traffic control - was the third involving a military aircraft in just two months. It also followed complaints that the air force could hardly afford spare parts for its aging fleet.

Survivors said they heard at least two loud explosions and felt the C-130 wobbling from left to right as it plummeted to the ground on Wednesday, losing a wing as it hit some trees and slammed into houses. It skidded 700 meters before halting in a rice field.

There were 110 people on the plane, which was carrying troops and their families from the capital Jakarta to Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua, home to a decades-long insurgency.

It was making several stops along the way and was attempting to land at an air force base in East Java province when it crashed.

Air force official Bambang Samoedra said at least 99 people were killed, including at least 10 children and two villagers on the ground. Fifteen people were injured, many with severe burns.

"People were screaming hysterically as the plane was going down. We were being thrown around all over the place," said Private Saputra, who suffered head and arm injuries. "Then it just blew up, and I found myself lying in a field, 20 yards from the wreckage. I couldn't stand up, and some villagers came to help me. Fire was rising up to the sky. I just submitted myself to God."

Indonesia's air force, long underfunded and handicapped by a recently lifted US ban on weapons sales, has suffered a string of plane crashes.

Twenty-four people were killed last month when a Fokker 27 crashed into an airport hangar on a training mission.

Last week another C-130 lost its landing gear and slammed into a house, injuring four people, and triggering a review of all Hercules planes, including several that were recently refitted in Singapore as part of efforts to improve safety.

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono noted yesterday that there was not enough money in the budget to properly maintain the military's aging fleet.


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