Indonesian airliner disappears in storm with 102 passengers and crew

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The Independent Online

An Indonesian passenger plane carrying 102 people disappeared in stormy weather Monday and rescue teams were immediately deployed to the area where military aviation officials feared the Boeing 737 may have crashed.

Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said the first distress signal was picked up over Sulawesi, one of the largest islands in the Indonesian archipelago, about 470 miles from the Adam Air flight's destination.

The second was detected over Majene, a coastal city 95 miles to the west, another aviation official said, adding to confusion as to whether it disappeared over land or sea.

Weeks of seasonal rains and high winds in Indonesia have caused several deadly floods, landslides and maritime accidents, including the sinking of a ferry in the Java Sea just before midnight Friday that left at least 400 people dead or missing.

The passenger ship capsized about 650 miles from the area where the Adam Air plane disappeared, and naval ships and helicopters continued Monday to scour the choppy tropical waters for ferry survivors.

Radjasa said it was too early to say if the Boeing 737-400 crashed, stressing that all he knew so far was contact with Adam Air flight KI-574 had been lost at 35,000 feet and the weather was severe.

"Let's hope the plane had an emergency landing," he told El-Shinta radio.

But Eddy Suyanto, military airport chief in South Sulawesi province, said the final transmissions indicated the plane "likely had an accident or a crash."

Some rescue teams have already been deployed and search parties comprising an airplane and five helicopters would set out to two possible locations at dawn Tuesday, he said.

The 17-year-old plane - on a two-hour flight from Indonesia's main island of Java to Manado, on Sulawesi's northern tip - carried six crew and 96 passengers, including 11 children. Contact was lost about an hour before it was due to land, said national aviation chief Ichsan Tatang.

Hundreds of people gathered at the airport in Manado seeking information about their missing relatives.

Justin Tumurang, 25, was waiting at the airport to pick up her twin sister, but she never arrived.

"Being a twin, we share almost every feeling. I felt something was not right, and it grew worse. Now I feel pain," she said.

Similar scenes played out in the Central Java port town of Rembang, where family and friends awaited word about the Indonesian ferry that capsized in heavy rain three days ago, many losing hope as bloated bodies continued to wash to shore.

Search and rescue operations were continuing, with nearly 200 survivors found since Friday's accident, but a temporary morgue also was being set up at a port close to where the Senopati Nusantara went down.

Hundreds of body bags were being readied.

"I am tired of crying," said Sipan, who goes by only one name, as he waited at the local hospital for news of his son. "Dead or alive, I will accept his destiny. It is up to God. All I can do is keep waiting."

With more than 17,000 islands, boats are one of the main modes of transportation in Indonesia. But people are increasingly taking to the skies, thanks in part to the emergence of budget airlines.

Adam Air is one of at least a dozen that have emerged in the country since 1999, when the industry was deregulated. The rapid expansion has led to cheap flights to scores of destinations around the sprawling nation, but has raised some safety concerns, since many of the airlines are small and lease planes that are decades old.

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