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Divers battle muddy water at Indonesian crash site

Indonesian divers search murky waters for bodies

104 feared dead in Silk Air crash

In this story: December 20, 1997
Web posted at: 7:14 p.m. EST (0014 GMT)

MAKARTI JAYA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Divers spent Saturday battling powerful currents and muddy water as they tried to reach the wreckage of a passenger jet that crashed into a river on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

A floating crane was also brought in try to hoist the fuselage of the Silk Air Boeing 737 from the monsoon-swollen Musi River.

The plane, with 104 people on board, crashed into the river Friday while on a flight from Jakarta to Singapore. Divers have found no survivors.

"Everybody is dead. Most of them are still inside the plane," said police Sgt. Ganep Nasir.

Dozens of relatives of the crash victims -- some weeping, other silent -- watched as a flotilla of Indonesian police and navy boats scoured the crash site, less than a mile from the village of Makarti Jaya. Helicopters dropped divers into the water.

The plane's fuselage was largely intact, but strong currents and poor visibility in the water were making it difficult for the divers to open the doors of the plane. Special welding equipment was brought to the site to help pry them open.

The plane's nose was reportedly embedded in thick mud at the bottom of the river.

Divers did find some human body parts and personal effects. Pieces of the plane's shattered tail were found and tied to the deck of one boat. The jet's flight data recorders have yet to be recovered.

U.S. crash team sent to site

A team of air crash investigation experts from the United States left Washington for Makarti Jaya to aid Indonesian investigators probing the cause of the crash, which killed five Americans. Among the team members is an expert on aircraft explosions.

Area residents who witnessed the plane crash told police that the there were two explosions prior to the plane's impact with the river and another once it crashed.

Searchers recover wreckage
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Some of those aboard Silk Air Flight 158:

Bonny Hicks, a former model in Singapore, and her boyfriend Richard Dalrymple, from the United States. They were going to Los Angeles to meet with seven of Hicks' vacationing relatives, then on to San Diego to see Dalrymple's mother. After that, the two were headed to Hawaii to celebrate Hicks' 30th birthday on January 5. "I just spoke to her the day before and everything was so normal," said Paun Rubiah, an employee at Hicks' home.

John Parappuram Joseph of Singapore, father of three. John's sister-in-law called her husband, John's brother George Joseph, at a party to tell him the news. "The news is just devastating," George Joseph said. "I rushed immediately to the airport."

A passenger list has been provided by the airline.

Patrick Cariseo, a spokesman for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said including an explosives expert on the investigative team was routine.

Boeing, the maker of the aircraft, was also sending a team of investigators to Indonesia.

No distress signals before crash

Silk Air, a division of Singapore Airlines, says the flight was carrying seven crew members and 97 passengers. The plane was just 10 months old and was the newest aircraft in Silk Air's fleet.

Silk Air had never before had a crash; its parent company, Singapore Airlines, also had never had a crash.

The passenger list included 40 people from Singapore, 23 Indonesians, 10 Malaysians, 14 Europeans, five Americans, two Japanese and one passenger each from Taiwan, Australia and India.

"There were no distress signals. There were no adverse weather conditions. There was no mountainous terrain. It is obviously very puzzling," said Mah Bow Tan, Singapore's communications minister.

However, there were reports indicating that there might have been some confusion between the pilot and an air traffic controller. The smoky haze that has been plaguing Southeast Asia in recent months is also being looked at as a possible factor.

Relatives get tragic news at Singapore airport

An hour after the flight from Jakarta was scheduled to land, relatives and friends waiting for their loved ones at Singapore's Changi Airport heard an announcement telling them to go to the Silk Air offices. By the time they reached the office, many were already in tears.

Airline officials took the relatives one floor down to a heavily guarded room. From there, screams and sobs began to break the silence of a quiet airport.

The families of crash victims spent many anxious hours

"It's terrible inside," said one young man wheeling refreshments into the room. "Everyone is crying. One Caucasian man is very angry. He's saying he doesn't believe in fate and there must be a reason for the crash."

Among the dead was Abdul Shukor Aziz, who was making his monthly trip home to Singapore to visit his wife and four children.

The 35-year-old Aziz worked in Indonesia, where he earned a better wage than in Singapore. This homecoming was extra special, as December 31 marked the Azizes' ninth wedding anniversary.

Like she did every month, Aziz's wife prepared a special homecoming dinner. She waited patiently, but her husband never arrived.

"I had to break the news to my daughter," a trembling Karim Rahman, Aziz's father-in-law, told Singapore's The New Paper.

On two special flights Saturday, Silk Air ferried 200 grieving relatives to Palembang, about 35 miles from the crash site. Some of the relatives then hired speedboats to take them the rest of the way.

"I can't say anything at the moment, I'm so sad," said Han Min, who made a three-hour trip down the river to get to the crash site. He said he lost two nephews and a niece who were traveling to Singapore for Christmas celebrations.

"I came to this place to see what happened," he said.

Witness: 'Sounded like a bomb'

Witnesses reported hearing an explosion and seeing the plane spinning before it fell out of the sky.

Plane wreckage
Indonesian officials inspect the wreckage

"It sounded like a bomb. Like a bomb dropping," one witness told CNN. "The first explosion was up in the air. Then it exploded again. Then it crashed into the water."

A 60-year-old man named Damsyik was repairing his roof when he saw the plane spinning toward the ground. "I heard a bang when the plane crashed into the water," he said.

"The impact of the crash was quite strong and a number of boats sank," said another witness who claimed to have seen the plane spinning in the sky.

The head of the nearby Sukamaju village said his villagers also heard at least one explosion. "We found a piece of rudder in a rice field about two kilometers (one mile) from the river," said Yasin Rosip.

Silk Air Chairman Chew Choon Seng said it was too early to speculate about the possibility that the plane exploded.

"Typically in accidents and tragedies you will get all sorts of claims which can end up being inaccurate," he told reporters.

The Silk Air crash is Indonesia's fourth major crash this year and the second in three months.

Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa and Reuters contributed to this report.


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