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Plane crash death toll tops 140

Published 01/07/2015

Rescuers search for victims at the site where an air force cargo plane crashed in Medan, North Sumatra (AP)
Rescuers search for victims at the site where an air force cargo plane crashed in Medan, North Sumatra (AP)

The death toll from the air force transport plane crash in an Indonesian city has jumped to more than 140, indicating a growing list of victims from the neighbourhood where the aircraft went down.

North Sumatra police major A Tarigan told TVOne that 141 bodies were recovered from the rubble of the residential area of Medan, where the plane crashed shortly after take-off yesterday.

The air force says there were 122 people on the plane including military personnel and their families.

The crash occurred only two minutes after the C130 Hercules, which had been in service since 1964, took off from Soewondo air force base in Medan. It ploughed into a building containing shops and homes.

Witnesses said flames and smoke were shooting from the plane before it crashed.

Air force chief Air Marshal Agus Supriatna has said the pilot told the control tower that he needed to turn back because of engine trouble and the plane crashed while turning right to return to the airport.

Many passengers were relatives of military personnel. Hitching rides on military planes to reach remote destinations is common in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago that spans three time zones.

Indonesia has a patchy civil aviation safety record and its cash-strapped air force has also suffered a series of accidents. Between 2007 and 2009, the European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe because of safety concerns.

The country's most recent civilian airline disaster was in December, when an AirAsia jet with 162 people on board crashed into the Java Sea on its way from Surabaya to Singapore.

There have been five fatal crashes involving air force planes since 2008, according to the Aviation Safety Network, which tracks aviation disasters.

Dozens of family members gathered at Medan's Adam Malik hospital today.

Outside its mortuary, more than 100 wood coffins were arranged in rows and women cried and screamed the names of loved ones killed in the disaster.

A group of students from a Catholic high school in Medan screamed hysterically as a body bag was opened, revealing the remains of their classmate Esther Lina Josephine, 17, clasping her 14-year-old sister.

"She looks like she wanted to protect her younger sister," said the school's principal, Tarcisia Hermas. "We've lost kind and smart students who had so many creative ideas."

The principal said the sisters were travelling during the school holidays to see their parents on the remote Natuna island chain, where their father is stationed with the army.

The hospital's director said more than two dozen victims have been identified by family.

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