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Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2007

Jet catches fire on landing; 20 confirmed dead

ASSOCIATED PRESS

JAKARTA, Indonesia A jetliner carrying more than 130 passengers and crew caught fire today as it landed on Indonesia s Java island, trapping a number of people inside the burning plane, the airline and witnesses said. Airport officials said 20 people are confirmed dead.

Some passengers escaped and rescuers battled flames to reach those still on the Boeing 737-400, said Capt. Ari Sapari, operations director of national carrier Garuda.

Fire fighters put out the blaze after two hours. Sapari did not say how many people were trapped or provide a number on survivors.

I saw at least eight corpses piled up at the front of the plane, said Capt. Yos Biantoro, who witnessed the fire at Yogyakarta airport in central Java.

Several passengers told local media that there were many survivors. Metro TV reported that a nearby hospital was treating around 60 injured.

It caught alight when it landed, said Sapari. He didn t provide any other details. The cause of the accident was unclear, but at least one passenger said the jetliner had overshot the runway.

BBC World television carried footage of raging flames poking through several windows of the passenger compartment. Witnesses said the aircraft had been gutted.

Metro TV said that 133 people were listed on the plane s manifest.

Among the passengers were Australian journalists and diplomatic staff who were in Indonesia in connection with a visit by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, said Australian Treasurer Peter Costello in Canberra. The foreign minister was not on the plane.

There appears to have been a significant loss of life, said Australian Prime Minister John Howard. There were up to 10 Australians on board and not all of those have been accounted for.

One passenger who survived told local TV station RCTI TV that before landing I felt the plane shake strongly.

We overshot the runway, then I heard the sound of an explosion and ran through an emergency exit, continued passenger Muhammad Dimyati. I believe many passengers remained trapped on board.

Another passenger described smoke in the passenger compartment.

Suddenly there was smoke inside the fuselage, said Dien Syamsudin, a local Islamic leader. It hit the runway and then it landed in a rice field. ... I saw a foreigner. His clothes were on fire and I jumped from the emergency exit. Thank God I survived.

Indonesia has been hit by a string of transportation disasters in recent months. In late December, a passenger ferry sank in a storm in the Java Sea, killing more than 400 people. Days later, a passenger plane operated by the budget airline Adam Air crashed into the ocean, killing all 102 people on board. A ship that sank near the capital s port left at least 50 dead.

The government responded by saying it would ban local commercial airlines from operating planes more than 10 years old, though most experts say maintenance and the number of takeoffs and landings are the most important factors in preventing accidents.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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