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Clues sought in Indonesia jetliner crash
Updated: 2005-09-06 20:25

Investigators hunted for clues Tuesday that would help explain why an Indonesian jetliner crashed seconds after takeoff, sifting through body parts as they worked. Weeping families looked for loved ones among dozens of charred bodies lying outside a morgue.

Investigators and residents of the neighborhood at the crash site of Mandala Airlines flight A330 which crashed moments after taking off from Medan, Indonesia en route to Jakarta one day ago Tuesday Sept. 6, 2005 in Medan. The Boeing 737-200 crashed with a total of 117 people on board killing 102 on board with 15 survivors. [AP]

At least 149 people were killed when the Boeing 737-200 crashed Monday in Indonesia's third largest city of Medan, including 47 people on the ground, a hospital official said Tuesday after tallying the corpses.

Fifteen people aboard the flight survived, including an 18-month-old boy who was shielded in his mother's arms.

Transport Minister Hatta Rajasa said it would be several weeks before the cause of the crash was known, but that investigators would be looking at why the Mandala Airlines plane failed to take off properly. The flight data recorder has been found, officials said.

Survivors said the jetliner started shaking violently when it reached an altitude of about 100 yards. It then veered sharply to the left and crashed in a ball of fire onto one of the city's busiest roads, skidding 200 yards before grinding to a halt. Some described a loud bang while the plane was still in flight.

Soon after dawn Tuesday, transportation experts arrived at the scene and began sifting through the charred wreckage, which was sprawled across the ash-covered street and a row of houses. The area was taped off, but police were unable to keep people from the scene.

"We found the leg of a child and lots of burnt flesh," said air force Lt. Andri, who goes by a single name.

Rajasa asked families of the victims to come to the morgue to help identify the dead, saying forensic experts were having trouble because the bodies were so badly burned. "The families know what to look for," he told el-Shinta radio.

Outside the Adam Malik Hospital morgue, around 90 blackened bodies were laid out on yellow sheets under a tent. Sobbing relatives went from corpse to corpse looking for parents, sons and daughters. Those that remain unclaimed by Wednesday will likely be buried in a mass grave, one doctor said.

"I found my son-in-law because I remembered the trousers he was wearing," said Asiyah, 50. "But I cannot find my daughter. I will stay here until I do."

Later Tuesday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono toured the crash site after attending the funeral of the north Sumatra governor, who died in the crash.

Thousands of people gathered to watch Monday, some standing on rooftops and buses, as firefighters struggled in a light drizzle to put out the blaze, which sent thick black smoke high into the air. Several houses and dozens of cars and motorcycles also were engulfed in flames.

"It happened very fast," survivor Rohadi Kamsah Sitepu, 35, told The Associated Press from his hospital bed. "There was an explosion outside the plane followed by huge flames inside the cabin. Then we crashed."

One of the survivors was Fritina, a 32-year-old mother who shielded her 18-month-old son during the crash. She saved her toddler but an older son died.

"She's not talking much," said Fritina's father, Haji Muhammad Ersani, 62, after visiting the pair in hospital late Monday. "She's in shock. She only remembers that when the plane went down and split apart, she immediately got out and watched as her eldest son was on fire."

Another passenger, Fredi Ismail, managed to crawl out of a hole in the fiery wreck only to realize his 47-year-old wife was still trapped inside.

"I heard her screaming. She couldn't get her safety belt off," Ismail, 52, told Metro TV. "So I went back in, hugged her and pulled her out to the grass ... Then a man came in a van and drove us to the hospital. I want to thank him. We're so lucky we made it."

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