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Indonesia Coping With Air, Sea Tragedies

  • Chad Bouchard

Indonesia is coping with air and maritime disasters after a week of severe weather. Emergency workers are searching for the wreckage of an airliner that disappeared during a flight to Sulawesi Monday. Almost all the 102 people on board were killed, although there were unconfirmed reports of twelve survivors. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta confirmed to VOA that three U.S. citizens were on board the flight. Meanwhile, rescue operations continue for a passenger ferry that sank early on Saturday morning. Chad Bouchard reports from Jakarta.

Villagers have found bodies and bits of smoldering wreckage while rescue teams approach the crash site of an Adam Air passenger jet, in a mountainous area of Sulawesi island.

The 17-year-old Boeing 737-400 was en route from Java to north Sulawesi when air traffic controllers lost contact around midday on Monday. A Singapore satellite picked up a distress signal about an hour after takeoff.

Search and Rescue Commander Idin Arifin says crews are making their way to the crash site, but mountainous terrain is making communication difficult.

He says rescuers are not sure of the exact location but are looking for the wreckage in a crash area marked by thick jungle and steep terrain.

Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa told reporters at a news conference that bad weather caused the crash, and that an investigation is already underway.

He says though the pilot was aware of the bad weather conditions, it is the airport's responsibility to cancel flights in case of severe weather. Radjasa says air traffic controllers received clearance from Indonesia's weather bureau, but conditions had changed very quickly during the flight.

Adam Air is one of about a dozen budget airlines operating in Indonesia, flying mainly domestic routes.

Heavy rain and wind over the last week has also caused three shipwrecks, including a passenger ferry, which carried more than 600 people.

The Senopati Nusantara capsized before dawn on Saturday, and rough seas have hampered rescue attempts.

Emergency workers have pulled more than 200 survivors from the Java Sea, but hundreds more are still missing. Some 100 bodies have been recovered.

Air force helicopters are dropping food and water to stranded survivors who have been adrift for nearly four days.

Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at a prayer meeting in Jakarta on Tuesday ordered rescuers to redouble their efforts.