MEDAN, Indonesia: An Indonesian air force transport plane crashed Tuesday shortly after take-off, exploding in a fireball in a city residential area and killing at least 20 people.
Buildings near the crash zone were severely damaged and cars were reduced to flaming wrecks when the Hercules C-130 came down in the city of Medan on the western island of Sumatra.
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 plane 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.”
A hospital in Medan said 20 bodies had so far been brought in.
“Twenty bodies have arrived at the hospital’s morgue,” Sairi Saragih, spokeswoman for the Adam Malik hospital, told AFP.
Poor air safety record
There were 12 crew on board the plane, which had been transporting military supplies to airbases. Local media reported they consisted of three pilots, one navigator and eight technicians.
The crash was in a newly built residential area and officials said it was unclear whether anyone was 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 kilometers (three miles) from the base.
Search and rescue agency official Tatang Zainuddin said teams in the area had been quickly called up to recover victims.
The Indonesian air force has suffered accidents before.
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.
In March two air force planes from an Indonesian aerobatics team crashed during a practice session before an air show on Malaysia’s Langkawi Island. All four pilots ejected successfully and survived.
Indonesia also has a poor civil aviation safety record. An Indonesia AirAsia plane crashed in December en route from Indonesia’s Surabaya to Singapore, killing all 162 people on board.