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An Indonesian military plane burst into flames and crashed into a rural area in East Java Wednesday morning, killing at least 90 people — the latest in a long line of aviation disasters here.
The Hercules C-130 transport was carrying 99 passengers and 11 crew members, including several children. A military spokesperson said the plane struck several small houses when it skidded through rice paddies, killing at least three villagers on the ground.
Indonesian television stations throughout the day looped footage taken shortly after the crash that showed rescue workers running into the burning wreckage and carrying out dozens of charred bodies.
Rescue teams were still searching for survivors well into Wednesday night, but a doctor at the local hospital in the city of Madiun told a local news channel that so far no survivors had been brought to the hospital.
The cause of the crash has yet to be determined. A military spokesman told reporters at a news conference, however, that the large plane was more than 30 years old.
The Indonesian defense minister, Juwono Sudarsono, said in a recent interview with GlobalPost that the military desperately needed to upgrade its military aircraft but lacked the financial resources to do so. The defense budget here has decreased significantly in recent years as the government focuses on alleviating rampant poverty.
Sudarsono said that the country did not face any external threats, but that an improved fleet of aircraft was essential for disaster relief, which has become one of the military’s central functions in recent years.
Another military aircraft crashed two weeks ago in Bandung, a large city two hours from Jakarta, killing 24 people. Military officials said at the time that the small propeller plane had also been decades old. Several small charter planes also crashed in the remote province of Papua in the last few months.
Indonesia has been criticized for lax safety standards on commercial flights following a string of major crashes that has killed more than a thousand people in the last five years, including several foreigners. The European Union banned Indonesian airliners from entering its airspace in 2007 and recently extended that ban until January, despite government efforts to improve maintenance and safety protocols. The government also grounded several of its major airlines, stripping some of their licenses.
In this sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, air travel is essential and is often as simple as boarding a bus. The country’s transportation infrastructure as a whole has major problems. Sinking ferries, derailing trains and traffic accidents are so common they often don’t even make the evening news.