Search goes on for air crash victims

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The Independent Online
Grieving relatives yesterday prayed and burned incense on boats moving slowly past the crash site of a Singaporean airliner that plunged into an Indonesian river with 104 people aboard.

Indonesian searchers were joined by 23 divers from a Singaporean naval unit seeking to recover wreckage of the SilkAir Boeing 737-200 that crashed on Friday midway through a flight from Jakarta to Singapore.

But strong currents and tides had moved a large chunk of fuselage found on Saturday and divers groping their way through the chocolate-coloured waters of the Musi River were unable to relocate the wreckage.

It appeared unlikely that there were any survivors among the 97 passengers and seven crew aboard the almost-new jet, which SilkAir said had undergone a thorough maintenance check only 10 days earlier.

Witnesses said the plane exploded twice in mid-air and again when it plunged into the river, 35 miles north-west of Palembang. Officials have said they were mystified why the plane should fall out of the sky.

Most of the dead were Singaporeans, but three Britons were also believed to have died. Eugene Clarke, 56, an engineering consultant, had been travelling back to Britain to attend the funeral of his father Francis, who died last week. Kenneth Wilson, 43, who lived in South Africa before moving to the Far East, was travelling to New Zealand to spend Christmas with his wife Tanse and daughters Robyn, 14, and Sandra, 17. The third British victim, also an expatriate, was Ruth Scott, 36, who lived in Singapore.

There were no distress calls and radio contact was lost only a few minutes before the crash. An Indonesian officer at the crash site said that the "black box" flight recorders were still missing.

In Greece, crews working in snow sifted through the burnt wreckage of a Ukrainian airliner to recover the bodies of 70 people killed in a crash near Mount Olympus.

Heavy fog and snow, which had delayed the discovery of the crash site for three days, slowed down efforts by military and medical units to collect the 62 passengers and eight crew who died in Wednesday's crash, he added.

The snow-covered slope near the remote northern Greek village of Ano Milia was strewn with bodies, passports and Christmas-wrapped toys when commandos reached the crashed Russian-built Yakovlev-42 airliner on Saturday.

The plane vanished from radar screens during its second approach to Salonika airport after a flight from Kiev via Odessa. Tasos Mandelis, an engineering consultant, said after listening to a tape recording of a dialogue between Salonika's control tower and the plane that it appeared the pilot had become disoriented.

The sliding plane shaved snow-covered trees before crashing in a gorge and bursting into flames where Mount Olympus meets the Pieria Mountains.

- Agencies