An Indonesian jetliner carrying around 140 passengers burst into flames Wednesday after skidding off the runway and plowing through a fence. While more than 115 people escaped through emergency exits as black smoke billowed behind them, reports say at least 21 trapped passengers died inside the burning wreckage.
Survivors said the Boeing 737-400 operated by the national carrier, Garuda, shook violently as it approached Yogyakarta airport too fast in clear weather, according to the latest report by the Associated Press. The passenger jet then shot off the runway, bouncing three times before plowing through a fence and coming to a halt in a rice field.
"The landing was so bad, bumping, bumping and suddenly fire came out and we jumped out of the emergency exit," said Santi Hendra, finance officer of World Vision Indonesia, who was aboard the jet coming from Jakarta. Hendra and three other staff members of the Christian relief and development organization managed to escape the burning plane after it overshot the runway on landing.
"We were all sitting next to the emergency exit," the World Vision officer reported in a news release from World Vision International. "We were 200 meters away from the plane when it burst into flames."
According to reports, the Indonesian government has ordered an investigation into the crash, the third involving a commercial jetliner in the country in as many months. Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, furthermore appointed the security minister to look into possible "nontechnical" causes, said spokesman Andi Mallarangeng, in an apparent reference to sabotage.
About 19 foreigners were on board Wednesday's flight, nine of them Australians, AP reported. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said five of the nine survived the fire with injuries, and information was urgently being sought on the others.
The World Vision staff members – Santi Hendra, Jimmy Nadapdap, Ronald Gunawan, and Ruth Panggabean - were reportedly all rushed to the hospital for immediate check ups and medical attention. Although shaken and exhausted after their traumatic experience, they are not thought to be badly injured.
Trihadi Saptoadi, World Vision Indonesia's national director, expressed his gratitude for the safety of the World Vision team while expressing his condolences to mourning families. "We're so thankful that our staff survived, but really feel for those who lost loved ones and our thoughts and prayers are with the families," he said in a released statement.
"The crash comes after a particularly difficult few months following the floods in Jakarta, yesterday's earthquake in Sumatra and last year's Yogyakarta quake," he added. "Our staff are going from one disaster to another."
On Tuesday, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake and a powerful aftershock hit Indonesia's Sumatra Island, some 25 miles from the city of Padang. According to Richard Rumsey, World Vision's vice president in the region, World Vision's national office in Indonesia is currently sending a small assessment team to Padang to determine if we can support local agencies to help meet unmet needs.