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Search for bodies and aircraft parts widens as families mourn

December 23, 1997

MAKARTI JAYA, Indonesia (AP) _ Four days after a Singapore-owned jetliner crashed into an Indonesian river, the only trace searchers found of victim Seow Poh Ting was his credit cards, floating in the muddy water.

With no body to take home to Singapore, his relatives prayed with a Buddhist monk aboard a small boat Tuesday for the return of his soul.

``Please come back. I want to bring you back home,″ sobbed his brother, Seow Poh Eng. Seow Poh Ting, 42, was among 104 who died when a SilkAir Boeing 737-300 plunged into the fast-flowing Musi River in Sumatra on Friday.

As the Seow family burned incense and threw flower petals into the murky water, scuba divers continued to bring human remains and bits of twisted wreckage to the surface.

Ground teams Tuesday found what is believed to be the passport of the Singaporean pilot, Capt. Tsu Way Ming, 41, about two miles east of the crash site in a rice field.

To the frustration of relatives, officials and searchers, no intact bodies of victims and no large parts of the plane have been found.

And no obvious explanation has surfaced for why the 10-month-old aircraft fell out of the sky halfway through a routine flight from Jakarta to Singapore.

Witnesses have said the plane exploded at least once or even twice before it crashed.

Singapore aviation authorities have downplayed the likelihood of a maintenance problem, and Indonesian officials rejected the possibility of sabotage Tuesday.

Senior military officers said the land and river search for pieces of the plane would be widened, focusing on finding the plane’s ``black box″ flight data and voice recorders.

An Indonesian navy minesweeper with sonar equipment was expected to arrive Wednesday to aid navy ships already moored over the crash site.

Indonesian authorities, helped by Singapore and U.S. aviation officials and experts from Boeing, have been examining wreckage in an airport hangar in the nearby city of Palembang. The investigation is likely to last months.

Divers, working in almost zero visibility on the muddy riverbed, have recovered gears, springs and mechanical parts believed to be part of the plane’s two engines. Pieces of the plane have also been found miles away on land.

Frogmen with flashlights have pulled up 28 sacks of unidentified human remains, police Sgt. Husen Achmad said.

Two local shamans who say they can detect wreckage with their supernatural powers are helping the recovery teams.

Most relatives agreed that a mass burial would be best if the recovered body parts are unidentifiable, the Singapore newspaper New Paper reported. It was unclear where the ceremony would be held.

Update hourly