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Unidentified dead from Indonesia plane crash buried

Mass grave funeral in Medan

Pilot's colleagues blame air traffic control for crash

September 29, 1997
Web posted at: 9:21 a.m. EDT (1321 GMT)

MEDAN, Indonesia (CNN) -- Forty-eight unidentified bodies, mutilated beyond recognition last week in Indonesia's worst air disaster, were buried in a mass grave Monday, as investigators tried to determine what caused the crash of Garuda Flight 152, and the pilot's colleagues blamed Medan's air traffic control for the crash.

Family members attending the funeral called out the names of the victims, not knowing which coffin held the remains of their loved ones. The bodies were buried in a cemetery outside Medan's Polonia Airport, where 57 victims of a 1979 Garuda commuter plane crash were already buried.

One girl tried to push past police to the edge of the grave. "Papa, papa," she sobbed, as the officers held her back. She tossed flower petals into the pit, unsure which coffin bore the body of her father.

Investigators look for recorders

Investigators on Monday searched in the mud and jungle growth of the crash site for the flight data and cockpit voice recorders that could explain why the plane crashed on approach to the Sumatra island airport.

The Garuda Airbus crashed in a mountainous region of Indonesia Friday, minutes after the pilot asked the Medan airport for assistance, complaining of low visibility because of the haze of heavy smoke from forest fires in the region.

All 234 people on board the plane died; the other 186 people killed were identified and their bodies turned over to their families Sunday for private burial, officials said.

It was unclear what role, if any, haze from the fires played in the crash.

Pilot's colleagues defend him

The pilot, Hance Wiyogo, 42, had been flying for more than 19 years. Based on what they say is the transcript of the last conversation between Garuda Flight 152 and air traffic control, members of the Garuda Pilots Association said the problem clearly began on the ground.

Wiyogo's funeral in Jakarta

On Friday evening, three planes were trying to land at the same time due to delays caused by the forest fire haze: Bouraq 683, Garuda 152 and Merpati 152.

About four minutes before the crash, there was some confusion because two planes had the same flight number. Then, after Garuda 152 was in radar range, air traffic control pulled it off what the pilots say is the normal landing approach, and told it to turn left at 2,000 feet, about 14 miles away.

The directions brought the plane to a mountainous area requiring an altitude of at least 7,500 feet, the pilots say. Normally, the plane would descend to 2,000 feet at 6.6 miles.

According to the transcript, the pilot asked for confirmation of the instructions and was told to go on.

The last miscommunication happened one minute before the crash, when pilots say air traffic control told Garuda 152 to turn right when he should have turned left. One minute after the plane began turning, the pilot's screams were heard.

Medan's air traffic control refused to comment on the transcript and directed CNN's questions to Indonesia's Ministry of Transportation. The ministry said the crash is under investigation and that no one can comment until the minister returns from the mass burial in Medan.

And other analysts say that without the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders, or "black boxes," it is still too early to know for certain what factors caused the crash.


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