YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) - An Indonesian passenger jet overshot the runway and burst into flames on Wednesday as it landed in the cultural capital of Yogyakarta, but most of the 140 people on board survived.
Dozens of passengers leapt from the national carrier Garuda Airline plane’s emergency exits into surrounding rice paddy fields to escape the inferno, which reduced the aircraft to a smoldering wreck of twisted metal.
Twenty-three people, including two Australians, died in the crash, health ministry national crisis center chief Rustam Pakaya said in a late afternoon text message to Reuters.
Earlier a provincial government official had put the death toll at 48, while Garuda had subsequently said it was 22.
Pujobroto, chief spokesman for Garuda, said flight GA 200 was a Boeing 737-400 plane carrying 133 passengers and seven crew when it crashed at around 7 a.m. (0000 GMT) after a scheduled flight from Jakarta.
One survivor told Reuters that passengers had been warned the flight would be turbulent.
“As we approached the ground and I could see roofs from our window, the plane was still swaying and shaking,” said Ruth Meigi Panggabean, who works for the aid group World Vision.
“Then the plane was slammed to the ground and skidded forward and slammed once again before it came to a stop,” she said.
The flight was carrying some Australian diplomats, officials and journalists who had been accompanying Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who was not aboard, on a visit to Indonesia.
Downer said up to five Australians were unaccounted for, after officials earlier said four were missing.
Two survivors, both in the Australian air force, had told him the aircraft landed too fast, Downer said.
“... the two who are in the best health told me that the plane came hurtling in to the runway at a much greater speed than an aeroplane would normally land at,” he said.
“They themselves thought the plane would never stop in the length of the runway, which it duly didn’t. They just plowed across the end of the runway, across a road, hit a bank and a culvert and went into a paddy field. When it hit the bank and the culvert, it exploded.”
Crash survivor Din Syamsudin, the head of Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, told Elshinta
of his lucky escape.
“Some passengers wanted to get their hand luggage. I cried to them, ‘Get out, get out’,” he said. “The plane was full of smoke. I just jumped from two metres high and landed in a rice field.”
As well as the Australians, Garuda’s media office said the plane carried two Japanese, two Brunei nationals and seven other foreigners.
Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered the chief security minister to investigate “non-technical” matters related to the crash, a cabinet official said.
However, Downer and Australian Prime Minister John Howard said they had received no information that would suggest terrorism or sabotage was a factor in the disaster.
Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said Australia would join an investigation into the accident.
An Australian Defense Force C130 transport aircraft meanwhile flew from Darwin to Yogyakarta on Wednesday carrying medical specialists to evacuate victims.
Yogyakarta, around 440 km (270 miles) southeast of the capital, Jakarta, is known as the cultural heart of Indonesia and is popular with tourists. Its Adi Sucipto airport is known for its relatively short runway.
Garuda spokesman Pujobroto said the plane, manufactured in 1992, had its last major inspection last month and had logged 34,960 flight hours.
Indonesia has suffered a string of transport accidents in recent months, including an Adam Air plane that disappeared in January with 102 passengers and crew on board, and a ferry sinking in late December in which hundreds died.
With additional reporting by Michael Perry in Sydney and Ahmad Pathoni, Achmad Sukarsono and Mita Valina Liem in Jakarta