Jet crashes in Indonesia, 104 feared dead, including 5 Americans
PALEMBANG, Indonesia (AP) _ Divers on Saturday located the bulk of the wreckage of a Singapore-operated jet that plunged into a river on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. All 104 people aboard, including five Americans, were feared dead.
A police officer said the SilkAir Boeing 737 broke into pieces Friday when it hit the water in a swampy area 35 miles north of Palembang. The plane was midway on its flight from Jakarta to Singapore.
Witnesses said the plane exploded twice in the air and again when it hit the water, a rescue official named Ono said in a telephone interview. There was no way to confirm the report.
Television station SCTV said divers found the wreckage in about 35 feet of water and that officials believed most of the victims were still inside. Rescuers, who recovered body parts and luggage, said the nose of the plane was buried in the muddy river bed.
Rescuers found debris and bodies in a 10-square-mile area of land and river, Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority said Saturday.
Channel 5 television in Singapore quoted an official at Palembang airport, identified as Ms. Rukmanida, as saying the crash happened 10 miles from the airport. The report did not say if the plane was trying to make an emergency landing.
``There were no distress signals. There were no adverse weather conditions. There was no mountainous terrain. It is obviously very puzzling,″ said Mah Bow Tan, Singapore’s communications minister.
SilkAir, a division of Singapore Airlines, said Flight MI-185 was carrying 97 passengers and seven crew members.
A water police officer said the plane crashed into the Musi River, which winds through a large swamp on its way to the sea. Most of the wreckage sank soon after impact, he said on condition of anonymity.
The weather at the time of the crash was fine, although it was raining heavily when rescuers arrived in the evening, the policeman said.
SilkAir officials in Singapore, who released a passenger list Saturday, said the passengers included five Americans as well as people from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Europe and Japan.
A passenger list released by the airline Saturday identified the Americans as Richard Dalrymple, Berenice Oey, Jonathan Oey, Susan Picariello and Kathryn Marie Aguirre Worth. Their states and hometowns were not listed, but Singapore’s The New Paper said Dalrymple’s mother lives in San Diego.
The newspaper said Dalrymple was traveling with his girlfriend, Bonny Hicks, a former Singapore model who was planning to mark her 30th birthday in Hawaii on Jan. 5.
The couple were to stop over in Singapore before going to Los Angeles to meet with several of Hicks’ relatives, then to San Diego, and then on to Hawaii. Hicks’ name also was on the passenger list. She was listed as being from Singapore.
The Straits Times of Singapore identified Picariello as a senior vice president of American Express Travel. The newspaper said she had gone to Jakarta on business. The paper did not publish a hometown.
U.S. embassies in Singapore and Jakarta are in contact with airline officials in both countries and are doing ``everything possible to assist family members of the Americans on this very sad occasion,″ Timothy A. Chorba, the U.S. ambassador to Singapore, said in a statement.
The airline said the plane’s captain, 41-year-old Tsu Way Ming, was a veteran who had logged 6,900 hours of flying time. The Singapore resident joined SilkAir in 1992 as a first officer and was appointed captain two years ago.
In Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board dispatched an investigating team to the crash site, including an explosives technician, said Drucie Andersen, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman. She said the investigators were sent to look after U.S. interests but declined to elaborate.
The plane left Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta Airport in mid-afternoon and was scheduled to land at 6 p.m. in Singapore, the airline said.
Mah, the communications minister, said the last radio contact at 5:15 p.m. gave no sign of trouble. Indonesians alerted SilkAir that the plane was missing about 40 minutes later.
At Singapore’s Changi Airport, relatives and friends of passengers were summoned to SilkAir’s offices. Some were crying when they arrived.
The airport arrivals screen read ``Delayed. Ask airline″ for Flight MI-185.
Mah said Singapore and Indonesian authorities were doing everything possible to speed rescue efforts.
By midnight Friday, more than 100 relatives and friends had gathered at the holding area. The number dwindled by 2 a.m. as many went home to prepare for either flying to the scene or to contact other friends and relatives.
SilkAir said the plane, a Boeing 737-300, was 10 months old and was the newest aircraft in its fleet.
It was leased from General Electric Capital Auto Financial Services Inc. on Feb. 14 and was sold by GECAS to MC Aircraft (Europe) Ltd. on Oct. 30, SilkAir added.
The carrier, formed in 1975 as the holiday operator arm of Singapore Airlines, sent two special flights to transport relatives to Palembang, where they were being briefed on rescue efforts. Another special flight was planned for Saturday to bring relatives traveling from abroad.
Boeing, the airplane maker, is assembling a team to help with the investigation, company spokeswoman Susan Bradley said Friday.
This was the second major commercial jetliner crash on Sumatra in three months.
On Sept. 26, an Indonesian-owned Garuda Airbus A-300 crashed into a jungle slope and exploded, killing all 234 crew and passengers aboard as it approached the city of Medan in north Sumatra.
An investigation into that crash is continuing. Reports indicated there was confusion between the pilot and an air traffic controller. Poor visibility from a smoky haze covering Southeast Asia also may have been a factor. The haze has since dissipated.
EDITORS: The SilkAir hot line in Singapore for information on relatives aboard the plane is: 011-65-542-3311.