Terrified passengers were forced to swim to safety on Saturday after a brand-new plane carrying more than 100 people to the resort island of Bali missed the runway and crashed into the sea.
The Boeing 737, operated by Indonesian carrier Lion Air, broke apart as it hit the water while coming in to land. Passengers described screams of panic and fears of drowning as the cabin plunged into shallow waters. Twenty-two passengers were taken ashore suffering broken limbs, head wounds and shock but, incredibly, all 108 people on board survived.
“The aircraft was in landing position when suddenly I saw it getting closer to the sea, and finally it hit the water,” said Dewi, an Indonesian woman who sustained head wounds in the crash. “All of the passengers were screaming in panic, afraid they would drown. I left behind my belongings and went to an emergency door. I got out of the plane and swam before rescuers jumped in to help me.”
The crash will renew concerns about aviation safety in Indonesia, which attracts millions of international tourists every year, most of them heading to Bali. A string of air disasters has resulted in several Indonesian operators, including Lion Air, being banned from European airspace.
Television footage showed the plane lying among rocks, its fuselage shattered. Police and rescuers were seen in rubber boats pulling life-jacket-clad passengers and crew members on board. Some survivors had climbed on to the aircraft’s wings to await rescue.
Hospital officials and paramedics said at least seven passengers were taken to Sanglah hospital in the capital, Denpasar, with head wounds and broken bones. Many passengers arrived with wet clothes and bruises. All but two of the 101 passengers and seven crew were reported to be Indonesian nationals, among them five children and one baby.
“There was no sign of trouble at all but then suddenly it dropped into the water,” passenger Tantri Widiastuti, 60, told a local news station. “I saw holes in the floor of the plane… we were evacuated quickly.”
Accident investigators have yet to establish the cause of yesterday’s incident, which involved an internal flight from Bandung, on the Indonesian island of Java, to Bali’s Ngurah Rai international airport near Denpasar.
“It probably failed to reach the runway and fell into the sea,” said Lion Air spokesman Edward Sirat. Harry Bakti Gumay, director-general of aviation at Indonesia’s transport ministry, said the plane overshot the runway and fell into the sea from a height of about 50m.
Local media reports quoted Eko Diantoro, general manager of the airport operator, saying the plane had been making an emergency landing at the airport, in good weather. “We don’t know the cause of the accident,” he told Indonesian television station tvOne. “We don’t have the detail of the passengers’ condition, but all are alive.”
Lion Air was founded in 1999 and expanded rapidly to become the country’s largest airline as economic growth fuelled interest in air travel. The company recently signed record-breaking contracts with two of the world’s top aircraft makers, Boeing and Airbus, for more than 500 planes, which will come into service over the next 13 years. The plane involved in the crash was a 737-800 Next Generation from Boeing which had been delivered just last month.
The Lion Air fleet has a relatively good safety record in Indonesia, where active volcanoes and volatile tropical weather conditions are among the hazards faced by pilots. The airline has suffered six recorded emergencies since 2002, but only one fatal accident. In 2004, a Lion Air McDonnell Douglas MD-82 crashed in Surakarta, central Java, killing at least 30 people.
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