Passenger plane misses Bali runway and lands in sea

An Indonesian plane carrying 101 passengers broke in two after missing the runway at Bali airport Saturday and landing in the sea, leaving dozens injured but no fatalities.

The new Boeing 737-800 was operated by budget airline Lion Air, a rapidly expanding carrier which recently sealed blockbuster orders for hundreds of new planes but which is banned from US and European airspace over safety concerns.

The domestic flight ended with passengers screaming in terror as the aircraft hit the water after missing the runway at the popular resort island's Denpasar airport, despite fine weather.

The plane, which was delivered to Lion Air just last month, came to rest partially submerged not far from the end of the runway, with inflatable slides deployed from the front exits and a gaping crack in the fuselage towards the rear.

Passengers in life jackets could be seen in the water as police in rubber dinghies rowed out from the shore.

"The plane plunged into the sea at high speed," said passenger Ignatius Juan Sinduk, 45, from his hospital bed in Denpasar where he was being treated for breathing difficulties after his chest was injured in the crash.

"Everybody screamed and water suddenly surged into the plane. Passengers panicked and scrambled for life jackets. Some passengers fell, some ran into others, it was chaos.

"I managed to grab one (a lifejacket) and slowly swam out of the plane and to the shore."

Dewa Made Indra, local head of the national disaster agency, said that 52 people were taken to hospitals after the crash. Forty-four had since been discharged and eight remained in four different hospitals on the island, he said.

A hospital doctor said one female passenger had suffered a life-threatening brain haemorrhage.

Worried relatives gathered at the head office of Lion Air in Jakarta. They included Masriyah, who like many Indonesians goes by one name and whose 19-year-old daughter was a stewardess on the plane.

"I called her hundreds of times but she didn't answer her phone. I need to know whether she is okay," she said, with tears running down her cheeks.

Bali is a hugely popular holiday destination, welcoming millions of foreign tourists from around the world every year.

Three foreigners were on board the Lion Air flight when it crashed at around 3:00 pm (0700 GMT) -- a Frenchman, a Singaporean woman and a Singaporean man, according to the airport's head of communications.

Transport ministry official Herry Bhakti initially said the plane overshot the runway, but later clarified his comments to say it landed straight in the water. Officials said they were still determining exactly why it ditched.

Lion Air's general affairs director, Edward Sirait, said the aircraft was arriving from the city of Bandung in West Java province with 101 passengers -- 95 adults, five children and a baby -- and seven crew members on board.

"The plane broke into two pieces," he said.

He said the plane was delivered to Lion Air in Indonesia on March 18, adding it had come "straight from the factory" and started operations a week later.

The pilot had flown for Lion Air for six years and was fit to fly, Sirait added. The airline has been randomly drug testing its crews since several pilots were arrested in recent years for possession and consumption of crystal meth.

The little-known carrier launched 13 years ago with just one plane but has in recent times struck two of the world's largest aircraft orders in a staggering $46 billion bet on Indonesia's air transport boom.

France announced last month that Indonesia's fastest-growing airline had agreed to buy 234 medium-haul A320 jets worth $23.8 billion (18.2 billion euros) from European aerospace giant Airbus.

That came after Lion Air astounded the industry with a $22.4 billion deal for 230 Boeing 737 airliners, inked in 2011 during a visit to Indonesia by US President Barack Obama.

But experts have raised concerns that the airline's rapid growth could put safety at risk, with some pointing out that there is a lack of qualified pilots in Indonesia to fly the fast-increasing number of planes.

by Gde Putra Wicaksana © 2013 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Apr 13, 2013