Wreckage of Russian Plane Found in Java

The wreckage of a Russian Sukhoi Superjet was found on Thursday on the side of a dormant Indonesian volcano, a day after it disappeared during a demonstration flight with about 50 people aboard.

Authorities said a helicopter pilot spotted the debris of Russia’s first post-Soviet civilian jet scattered over rocks and trees on the sheer face of Mount Salak outside the city of Bogor.

The twin-engine Superjet 100 vanished from radar screens south of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta on Wednesday, 50 minutes into what was meant to be a short flight to show off its capabilities to prospective buyers.

Initial efforts to locate the jet proved fruitless but the crew of an Indonesian Super Puma military helicopter discovered the crash scene after the search resumed at first light on Thursday, officials said.

They said rescuers were trying to get to the wreck by land and air, but that heavy fog was hampering visibility for helicopters and that reaching the crash site could take several hours by foot.

National rescue agency spokesman Gagah Prakoso said there was no sign so far of any survivors.

Devastated relatives of those aboard the ill-fated aircraft gathered at the Halim Perdanakusuma airport in Jakarta — used for military and some commercial flights — where the Sukhoi had taken off the day before.

Some wept quietly as friends tried to console them, while others sat in a state of shock, staring into the distance. Authorities took DNA samples to help in identification if remains are found.

A teary-eyed Yenni Cipta, 38, recalled that when her father, an aviation worker, had bid farewell on Wednesday he had jokingly told her children: “Grandpa is going to a faraway place.”

Those aboard the flight were mostly Indonesian aviation representatives, but also included eight Russians — four of them crew and four Sukhoi employees — plus an American and a Frenchman, officials said.

The Sukhoi Superjet, a new passenger aircraft, is crucial to Russia’s hopes of becoming a major player in the modern aviation market, and a major accident would be the first disaster involving the type.

National search and rescue chief Daryatmo, who goes by one name, said the helicopter pilot had sighted the Sukhoi logo among the debris.

“We spotted the fragments at the coordinates where we lost contact with the plane,” he told a news conference.

The mountainous Mount Salak region rises 6,500 feet (2,000 metres) above sea level, some 50 miles (80 kilometres) southeast of Jakarta. Indonesian officials have said the Sukhoi descended to about 6,000 feet shortly before it vanished.

The debris was found on the side of Mount Salak about 1,800 metres (5,900 feet) above sea level, said Lieutenant Colonel Mukhlis, a local military commander.

“We don’t know how big it is, what part of the plane, and the condition of the passengers,” he added.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters that “all efforts must be made in this rescue operation… and the priority must be to save survivors, if any.”

The demonstration flight was part of an Asian tour to promote the aircraft, which is a joint venture between Sukhoi and Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica. It made its first commercial flight last year.

So far it is being flown by two airlines, Russia’s Aeroflot and Armenia’s Armavia, but orders have reportedly been confirmed with more, including Indonesia’s Kartika Airlines and Sky Aviation.

At the Jakarta airport, Susan Sepang, 50, clutched a framed photograph of her 30-year-old daughter, an employee of Sky Aviation, as a worker inserted a cotton swab in her mouth for a DNA test.

Reports of the number on board varied, with local rescue officials saying the plane was carrying 46 people and Trimarga Rekatama, the company responsible for inviting the passengers, saying 50 were on board.

Juanda, a 41-year-old villager near Mount Salak, said he was feeding his chickens on Wednesday when he heard a roar overhead from a plane “moving unsteadily just slightly below the mountain summit”.

“It was still way above the trees but veering left and right, and then it disappeared,” he said. “I heard a sound like firecrackers, but I couldn’t see it anymore.”

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