Indonesia to review air force fleet after deadly plane crash

Indonesia to review air force fleet after deadly plane crash
PHOTO: AFP

MEDAN, Indonesia - Indonesia's president called for an evaluation of the country's ageing air force fleet, as fears grew that the death toll from Tuesday's military plane crash could exceed 100 people.

A military transport plane carrying 122 people ploughed into a residential area shortly after take-off in northern Indonesia, in what may be the deadliest accident yet for an air force with a long history of crashes.

So far, 42 victims have been identified, air force spokesman Dwi Badarmanto told Reuters. But the death toll was expected to rise significantly as the military doesn't believe there were any survivors.

Badarmanto said 142 body bags had been delivered to the hospital in the Sumatra city of Medan.

The crash of the aircraft, a C-130B Hercules aircraft that went into service half a century ago, is bound to put a fresh spotlight on Indonesia's woeful air safety record and its ageing planes. "The evacuation of victims from the Hercules plane must be prioritised. Then there must be an evaluation of the age of planes and defence systems," President Joko Widodo tweeted late Tuesday.

"Hopefully, we can stay away from disasters." The president is expected to make a statement on the crash later on Wednesday.

Officials said the plane plunged into a built-up area of Medan, one of Indonesia's largest cities. Eye witnesses said it appeared to explode shortly before it smashed into houses and a hotel.

It was not yet clear how many victims were in the plane or on the ground.

The plane had been on its way from an air force base in Medan to Tanjung Pinang in Riau Islands off Sumatra. Media said the pilot had asked to return to the base because of technical problems.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, 10 fatal crashes involving Indonesian military or police aircraft have occurred over the last decade.

The Indonesian air force has now lost four C-130s, reducing its transport reach in an archipelago that stretches more than 5,000 km (3,000 miles) from its western to eastern tips.

The air force has grounded the remaining eight C-130Bs until investigators discover the cause of the crash.

The transport plane accident could bring pressure on the president to spend more on modernising the air force.

Although Indonesia accounted for nearly one-fifth of defence spending by Southeast Asian countries last year, as a percentage of GDP the amount was the lowest in the region at 0.8 percent, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute data.

President Joko Widodo, who took office last year, has said he plans to double military spending to $15 billion by 2020.

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