Indonesian climbers near Russian plane wreckage

Associated Press + More

By ANDI JATMIKO, Associated Press

MOUNT SALAK, Indonesia (AP) — Rescue teams used climbing gear to scale the nearly sheer slopes of a dormant Indonesian volcano, hoping Friday to reach the wreckage of a Russian-made jetliner that crashed with 45 people aboard during a demonstration flight for potential buyers.

Local television showed what appeared to be the plane's tail with the Sukhoi Superjet-100's blue and white logo, part of a wing and bits of twisted metal scattered along Mount Salak's slopes like confetti.

Thick fog kept helicopters away from the crash site, officials said, delaying potential answers to what caused the crash. Russian and French investigators arrived to join the probe as the difficulties of reaching bodies or the plane's black box became clear.

"Our six helicopters have been trying to get close to the crash site since this morning" said Sunarbowo Sandi, operational chief at Indonesia's search and rescue agency. But, he said, "With poor visibility of less than 5 meters (15 feet), it's difficult for us to evacuate the victims."

Sandi said he hoped a ground team of 85 rescue workers using ropes to climb the mountain might reach the wreckage Friday. The jet slammed into the volcano Wednesday at nearly 800 kph (480 mph), raining debris down the slope.

He said communications with the ground team were difficult and it was still unclear what the climbers would find, given the possibility that much of the wreckage and possibly bodies had tumbled down the near-vertical slope.

Local television station TVOne reported that some rescuers have arrived on the scene and discovered some remnants of the plane but had so far found no survivors. All 45 aboard are feared dead.

The Sukhoi Superjet-100 is Russia's first new model of passenger jet since the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago and was supposed to kick-start the nation's efforts to modernize its fleet and resurrect its neglected aerospace industry.

The ill-fated Superjet was carrying representatives from local airlines and journalists on what was supposed to be a 50-minute demonstration flight. Just 21 minutes after takeoff from a Jakarta airfield, the Russian pilot and co-pilot asked for permission to drop from 10,000 feet to 6,000 feet (3,000 meters to 1,800 meters). They gave no explanation, disappearing from the radar immediately afterward.

It was not clear why the crew asked to shift course, especially since they were so close to the 7,000-foot (2,200-meter) volcano, or whether they got an OK, officials have said.

Communication tapes will be reviewed as part of the investigation, but it's unlikely they will be released to the public any time soon.


Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.