Jokowi orders full probe into military plane crash

Jokowi orders full probe into military plane crash
Search and rescue personnel at the crash site in Medan.

President Joko Widodo has ordered a full investigation into the crash of an ageing air force transport plane amid claims of paying passengers and also demanded that outdated military ware be destroyed.

The death toll rose to 142 yesterday as more bodies were recovered after the Hercules C130 crashed into a residential neighbourhood in Medan on Tuesday, making the crash the worst in the history of Indonesia's military.

Officials said there were 122 people on the flight, more than the 113 initially reported on Tuesday. Most were servicemen and their families.

The C130 had been in service for five decades, raising questions yet again about the country's poor air safety record and also whether the plane was overloaded.

Media reports quoted people as saying some of the passengers on board had paid for the flight.

"We paid one million rupiah (S$100) per person," Mr Janson Halomoan Sinaga, who lost five relatives, was quoted as telling Agence France-Presse. He added they were "not a military family".

Air Force Chief Marshall Agus Supriatna yesterday rejected the claims. "This flight cannot be commercialised, unless there is an order from a higher authority or if it is for providing (transportation) arising from natural disasters," he told reporters. "If there are (paying passengers), I will fire the commander."

As for the crash, he said investigators are looking into a combination of engine trouble and an illegal ground antenna tower as a possible cause.

Mr Joko yesterday ordered the defence minister to conduct a total review of how military assets are being managed.

"The whole system of weapons procurement has to be overhauled... we must move towards modernising our military assets," he said at a police event in Jakarta.

Indonesia should be involved in the design, production, operations and training of those assets so that the military's operational readiness can stay at "the highest levels" at all times, he added.

Later in the day, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said the family and relatives of the passengers would receive compensation.

The crash comes just six months after AirAsia Flight QZ8501 went down in stormy weather last December, killing all 162 on board.

In Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago with the world's second- longest coastline, air travel is the most practical way of getting from place to place.

The country's expanding middle class has also fuelled a flourishing aviation sector in recent years.

But Indonesia's aviation sector has a patchy record.

Early this week, the European Union said it would maintain a ban on Indonesian airlines entering its airspace. Only four Indonesian carriers are exempted.

In the past decade, the country's air force has chalked up five other crashes with 155 people killed, according to the Aviation Safety Network website.

Aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman said the military's maintenance record has to be investigated, noting there were four incidents involving air force planes in the first half of this year alone.

"These incidents, four to date this year, beg the question whether there has been any decline in morale, maintenance or pilot training," said Mr Soejatman.

Just last December, army chief of staff Gatot Nurmantyo said only one-third of the army's budget was spent on new assets and maintenance. The bulk was for paying salaries, he was quoted as saying.

Mr Joko said he planned to double military spending to US$15 billion (S$20 billion) by 2020. But Tuesday's crash is certain to put pressure on him to accelerate the modernisation of the air force.

This article was first published on July 2, 2015.
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