Probe into Garuda Crash Gets Underway

YOGYAKARTA, Central Java ~ Investigators were combings through the burned-out skeleton of a Garuda Indonesia airliner on Thursday to find out why it caught fire after a rough landing, killing 21 people.

Police forensics experts placed numbered markers beside the scattered debris and photographed it, while others worked inside the charred wreckage of the Boeing 737.

The passenger jet made a hard landing on Wednesday at Yogyakarta’s airport, careering off the runway and into a rice paddy. More than 100 people managed to escape the inferno that quickly consumed the aircraft.

“What we are doing is an investigation of the accident scene. We number and measure debris. We have numbered about 25 pieces but we cannot make a conclusion yet,” local policeman Pitoyo Agung said.

He said 15 police specialists were working at the site. One investigator from the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT), several representatives of Garuda and one believed to be from Boeing were also present.

Transport Minister Hatta Rajasa said the KNKT would lead the probe to find out how the plane’s landing could have gone so wrong.

Fire had eaten away the entire right side of the cabin but the left side remained, blackened but still erect from the windows down. The engines were sheared off and scattered.

The tail was intact but investigators painted over the airline’s logo of a garuda, a mythical bird, before trying to cut off the tail with a blowtorch.

Australia has rushed two medical teams and police victim identification specialists to Yogyakarta, Prime Minister John Howard said on Thursday, as his country awaited news of five Australians missing and feared dead.

“Obviously as time goes by, the fears can only grow,” Howard said.

An airport security officer, Thamrin, told AFP late on Wednesday that he had seen a group of five to 10 Australian police arrive.

An Australian air force officer injured in the crash told Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who was visiting Indonesia at the time of the disaster, that the plane had been going too fast when it landed.

They told him “that the plane came hurtling into the runway at a much greater speed than an airplane would normally land at,” Downer told ABC television.

The plane careered off the end of the runway before finally hitting a culvert and exploding, Downer said.

Ikhsan Tatan, an official at the Transport Ministry, said the Boeing 737-400 was built in 1992 and had flown more than 35,000 hours.

The disaster has again called into question the blighted transport safety record in Indonesia.

A Boeing 737-400 owned by low-fare carrier Adam Air with 102 people on board crashed into the sea off the island of Sulawesi on New Year’s Day, leaving no survivors.

The government has been discussing proposals to reduce the age of the aircraft in its skies.

But Shukor Yusof, an aviation analyst with Standard and Poor’s equity research in Singapore, said age was not the issue.

“It is the lack of personnel who are trained to look after those aircraft,” he said.

Recent Indonesian air, sea and rail accidents, which killed hundreds of people, have been blamed on the lax enforcement of safety regulations, poor maintenance and a lack of investment in transport infrastructure. [FULL COVERAGE OF GARUDA CRASH ON PG 2]

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