Indonesia to evacuate bodies after deadly chopper crash

TARAKAN, Indonesia - Indonesian rescuers were set Sunday to fly into the jungles of Borneo to evacuate the bodies of 13 people killed when an army helicopter crashed and burst into flames a day earlier.

Six people were also injured when the aircraft, carrying construction workers to build a military outpost, smashed into a cliff as it attempted to land at the remote site near the Malaysian border.

On Sunday four aircraft were set to fly to the area in Malinau district, North Kalimantan province, which can only be reached by air or river.

Two helicopters carrying chainsaws and mountaineering equipment would head first and a second helicopter and small plane would follow later to pick up the bodies, a military spokesman said.

"The rescuers' priority today is to retrieve the bodies and evacuate them from the crash site," spokesman Legowo Jatmiko told AFP.

"They will have to cut through wood with chainsaws and use ropes and mountaineering equipment to get to the bodies on the steep cliff."

He added that everyone was "ready but the problem now is the bad weather. It is cloudy and drizzling so we haven't been able to fly to the area yet".

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his "deep sorrow over the deaths of the soldiers and civilians".

"Hopefully the families of the soldiers and other victims will find fortitude in the face of this tragedy," he said in a tweet.

Jatmiko said rescuers also needed to retrieve the black box flight data recorders from the Russian-made Mi-17 aircraft, which was completely burnt out following the accident.

Once the bodies have been evacuated, an investigation into the cause of the crash will begin.

Military officials said they suspect the crash was caused both by bad weather and a problem with the back rotor blades, which appeared to spin out of control just before it hit the cliff.

Eight of those killed were civilian construction workers and five were crew members, who were military personnel. The six survivors were still in hospital receiving treatment for burns.

Borneo is a vast, biodiverse island shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, covered in lush jungle and home to rare animals such as orangutans.

There have been numerous fatal air crashes over the years in Indonesia and some have involved military aircraft.