Yogyakarta, Indonesia: An Indonesian passenger jet overshot the runway and burst into flames on 7 March 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 plane to a smouldering wreck of twisted metal.
Twenty-three people, including two Australians, died in the crash, health ministry national crisis centre chief Rustam Pakaya said in a late afternoon text message to Reuters.
Earlier a provincial government official had put the toll at 48, while Garuda 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 five Australians were injured and another four unaccounted for -- an air force liaison staffer, a police officer, an embassy staffer and a journalist.
Garuda’s media office said the plane carried just eight Australians, as well as 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, Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi told reporters.
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.
The head of the national transport safety commission, Tatang Kurniadi, told Elshinta news radio the commission was investigating the disaster.
“It’s not easy to reach a conclusion on an accident like this. We’re looking for evidence such as where the fire had come from,” he said.
Garuda spokesman Pujobroto said the plane, manufactured in 1992, had its last major inspection in February and had logged 34,960 flight hours.
Yogyakarta, around 440 km 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.
The crash came a day after two powerful earthquakes hit the neighbouring Indonesian island of Sumatra, killing 72 people according to the country’s disaster management agency.
Aviation disaster expert Robert Heath said aircraft speed might have been a factor in the crash.
“From what I can see so far the aircraft appeared to land intact and that may point to excess speed being a factor,” said Heath, from the University of South Australia.
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.