Front Wheels Snapped on Indonesian Jet

After the plane's front wheels broke off, fuel tanks in the right wing were ruptured, enabling the fire to spread.

Investigators probing the crash-landing of a Boeing 737-400 that burst into flames after careening off a runway, killing 21 people, said Thursday the jetliner's front wheels had snapped off as it touched down.

"We are trying to find out why the wheel broke," said investigator Marjdono Siswo Suwarno.

Forensic doctors struggled to identify the dead from Wednesday's crash-landing and fire of the Garuda Airlines jet, with many burned beyond recognition.

Suwarno said that after the plane's front wheels broke off, fuel tanks in the right wing were ruptured, enabling the fire to spread.

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  • About 117 dazed and bloodied survivors staggered from the plane after it broke through a fence and came to rest in a rice paddy. Most escaped without major injuries, although several suffered burns and broken bones.

    Those killed were trapped in the wreckage of the plane after it caught fire, sending billowing clouds of black smoke and orange flames high into the air. The plane had been carrying 140 passengers and crew, officials said.

    The accident at Yogyakarta international airport on Java island was the third plane crash in as many months in Indonesia, raising urgent questions about the safety of the country's booming airline sector.

    At least four Australians were among the dead, Indonesian officials said. One other Australian was feared dead, but her body had not been formally identified yet. Two other people remained unaccounted for.

    Australian and Indonesian crash investigators examined the blackened fuselage and other parts of the plane scattered over a brilliant green rice paddy at the end of the runway, taking photos and notes as they worked.

    Both of the plane's flight data recorders had been found and would be sent to Australia for analysis, investigators said.

    "It is clear there are no indications of sabotage or intentional explosions in this crash as yet," said Joseph Tumenggung, the head of the investigation team.

    The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to help the Indonesian government investigate.

    Alessandro Bertellotti, a journalist with Italian broadcaster RAI, said the plane was going at a "crazy speed" as it approached Yogyakarta airport after a 50-minute flight from the capital, Jakarta.

    "It was going into a dive and I was certain we would crash on the ground," Bertellotti told the Italian news agency ANSA. "I was sitting behind the wing. I saw that the pilot was trying to stop it, but it was too fast. It literarily bounced on the strip."

    Several survivors said pilots and flight attendants opened emergency exits and directed passengers to them. The evacuation was orderly for the most part, with some passengers able to take their hand-luggage with them.

    "A stewardess opened the door behind me and I was among the first people to get out," Bertellotti told ANSA.

    Australian forensic experts were helping Indonesian doctors working to identify bodies in the morgue of the city's Sarjito Hospital. Some relatives argued with doctors, demanding permission to take bodies home they thought they recognized before dental or DNA checks were performed.

    "I definitely recognize the body of my brother," said Salamun, who goes by a single name. "We asked doctors to bring him home because as Muslims we want him buried immediately, but doctors required dental records of my brother. This bureaucracy is making us crazy."

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