Indonesia to review ageing air force fleet after deadly crash

MEDAN, INDONESIA: Indonesia's president promised a review of the country's ageing air force fleet and a defence modernisation drive on Wednesday, as the death toll from the crash of a military transport plane in the north of the country climbed past 140.

The C-130B Hercules aircraft, which went into service half a century ago, ploughed into a residential area of the city of Medan on Tuesday, throwing a renewed spotlight on Indonesia's woeful air safety record.

"There must be an evaluation of the age of planes and defence systems," President Joko Widodo tweeted late on Tuesday, as earth movers worked through the night to recover the dead from rubble of twisted metal and smashed buildings.

The TVOne news channel said that 141 body bags had been brought to a hospital near the crash site, all but two of which contained complete bodies.

Officials said the Hercules, which plunged into houses and a hotel two minutes after take-off, had been carrying 122 people which would suggest around 20 were killed on the ground by the impact of the plane.

The plane had been on its way from an air force base in Medan, one of Indonesia's largest cities, to Tanjung Pinang in the Riau Islands off Sumatra. Media said the pilot had asked to return to the base because of technical problems.

Widodo said he had ordered an in-depth investigation into the cause of the accident, which may be the deadliest yet for an air force with a long history of crashes, and a "fundamental restructuring" of weapons management and procurement.

"We should not just buy weapons, but shift towards modernising our weapons systems," he said in a televised statement on Wednesday.

"Our defence industry should be involved, starting from production, operation, maintenance. The main point is ... the procurement of weapons should ultimately move toward an independent defence industry."


According to the Aviation Safety Network, 10 fatal crashes involving Indonesian military or police aircraft have occurred over the last decade.

The Indonesian air force has now lost four C-130s, reducing its transport reach in an archipelago that stretches more than 5,000 km (3,000 miles) from its western to eastern tips.

The air force has grounded its remaining eight C-130Bs until investigators discover the cause of the crash.

The transport plane accident could bring pressure on the president to spend more on modernising the air force.

"This incident shows us that we must renew our aircraft and our military equipment," Pramono Anung, a lawmaker and member of the parliamentary commission for defence, said in an interview.

"The Hercules is already old, many of our other systems are already old. As parliament we will support giving more funding to the military so that they can upgrade."

Although Indonesia accounted for nearly one-fifth of defence spending by Southeast Asian countries last year, as a percentage of GDP the amount was the lowest in the region at 0.8 percent, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute data.

Widodo, who took office last year, has said he plans to double military spending to $15 billion by 2020.