CIJERUK, Indonesia, May 10, 2012 (AFP) – All of the dozens aboard a Russian Sukhoi passenger jet flying on a sales promotion trip in Indonesia were killed when the plane slammed into a mountain, officials said on Thursday.
Rescuers who reached the remote site found bodies scattered near the wreckage of Russia’s first post-Soviet civilian plane on the sheer face of Mount Salak, outside the city of Bogor, south of Jakarta.
“We entered the area… and found the dead bodies, but we cannot say about the number,” said Gagah Prakoso, spokesman for the national search and rescue agency.
“We haven’t found any survivors.”
The twin-engine Superjet 100 vanished from radar screens on Wednesday, 50 minutes into what was meant to be a short flight to show off its capabilities to prospective buyers as Russia tries to rebuild its civilian jet industry.
Reports of the number on board varied. Trimarga Rekatama, the company responsible for the doomed flight’s guest list, originally said 50 passengers were on board but Thursday revised the number to 45.
Local rescue officials said the plane was carrying 46 people.
Those aboard 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.
They said a helicopter pilot spotted the plane’s debris after rescuers resumed their operation at first light on Thursday, locating one part with the Sukhoi logo on the sheer face of Mount Salak, a dormant volcano.
Devastated relatives of those aboard 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 of the dead.
Muawana, 40, waited at the airport along with dozens of friends and family, holding up a photograph of her husband smiling outside the Sukhoi jet just before he boarded.
“He sent me a number of photos from his BlackBerry before he boarded and a few from the plane. He was smiling and looked so proud to be on the flight,” she said, flanked by the couple’s two daughters, Olivia, six, and Tasha, 10.
“He wasn’t even supposed to be on the flight, but his friend invited him at the last minute because there was a spare seat.”
A teary-eyed Yenni Cipta, 38, recalled that when her father, an aviation worker, had said farewell on Wednesday, he had jokingly told her children: “Grandpa is going to a faraway place.”
The Sukhoi Superjet, a new passenger aircraft, is crucial to Russia’s hopes of becoming a major player in the modern aviation market, and the crash in Indonesia is the first disaster involving the type.
The demonstration flight was part of an Asian tour to promote the aircraft, a joint venture between Sukhoi and Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica, which made its first commercial flight last year.
In Russia, investigators opened a criminal probe into possible misconduct during preparations for the flight.
An investigative committee said it would look at “the procedure for preparing the flight crew and also the technical condition of the craft itself before its departure from Russia”.
Rescuers travelled through the mountainous terrain of western Java by land overnight Wednesday after bad weather forced helicopters to turn back. More thick fog and rain again hampered the operation on Thursday.
“We have tried to evacuate the bodies by air three times today, but it wasn’t possible. We’ll continue tomorrow when the weather clears up,” rescue chief Marsdya Daryatmo said at a press conference.
“We’ll start at 6.30am tomorrow (Friday) because it’s usually still foggy at 6:00am, and hopefully the weather will be more favourable for flying after that.”
Teams of rescuers who had reached the crash site — which is about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Jakarta — set up camp on a steep slope.
They will climb higher up the mountain on Friday morning with ropes, national rescue operations chief Sunarbowo said, to the wreckage, which is located around 1,800 metres above sea level.
So far, the Superjet 100 is flown only 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.
(National News Agency – RSS – Nepal @ 2012)