Investigators picked through the charred debris of a Boeing 737-400 that burst into flames after careening off a runway, as forensic doctors struggled Thursday to identify the 21 people killed, many burned beyond recognition.
A top investigator said that the plane's front wheels snapped off as it landed, and that the fire spread from punctured fuel tanks in the right wing.
"We are trying to find out why the wheel broke," Marjdono Siswo Suwarno said.
About 117 dazed and bloodied survivors staggered from the jetliner after it broke through a fence and came to rest in a rice paddy on Wednesday. Most escaped without major injuries, although several suffered burns and broken bones.
"We managed to escape from the back door, because the plane didn't catch fire until ... two, three minutes (after) the crash, so this allowed around 100 people to leave the plane, myself included," Alessandro Bertellotti, an Italian journalist, said on CBS News' The Early Show.
Those killed were trapped in the wreckage of the Garuda Airlines plane after it caught fire, sending billowing clouds of black smoke and orange flames high into the air. The plane had been carrying 140 passengers and crew, officials said.
"Just before landing, everyone on board realized that the plane was traveling definitely too fast for landing. And people started screaming even before touching the tarmac. We realized that something was wrong," Bertellotti (left) said.
The accident at Yogyakarta international airport on Java island was the third plane crash in as many months in Indonesia, raising urgent questions about the safety of the country's booming airline sector.
On Thursday, Australian and Indonesian crash investigators examined the blackened fuselage and other parts of the plane scattered over a brilliant green rice paddy at the end of the runway, taking photos and notes as they worked.
"It is clear there are no indications of sabotage or intentional explosions in this crash as yet," said Joseph Tumenggung, the head of the investigation team.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to help the Indonesian government investigate the crash.
"When we hit the ground and the plane crashed, the cockpit and the business class simply were obliterated. For them there was no way to escape, Bertellotti told Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen.
"There was a little fire that started just four, five seats ahead of me on the right side of the plane," he said, but he was seated near the aisle, and was able to escape with 50 or 60 other people.
"And then there was a little explosion and then most of the plane caught fire. And for people inside, probably at that time there was no way to escape. Or if they were able to get out, they were definitely seriously injured," Bertellotti, a radio newsman, said.
Several survivors said pilots and flight attendants opened emergency exits and directed passengers to them. The evacuation was orderly for the most part, with some passengers able to take their hand-luggage with them.
Australian forensic experts were helping Indonesian doctors working to identify bodies in the morgue of the city's Sarjito Hospital. Some relatives argued with doctors, demanding permission to take bodies home they thought they recognized before dental or DNA checks were performed.
"I definitely recognize the body of my brother," said Salamun, who goes by a single name. "We asked doctors to bring him home because as Muslims we want him buried immediately, but doctors required dental records of my brother. This bureaucracy is making us crazy."
As of Thursday, the bodies of 16 victims had been identified, doctor Col. Slamet Pornomo said.
The Indonesian government ordered an investigation into the crash, the latest in a series of accidents in the country.
On New Year's Day, a jet plummeted into the sea, killing all 102 people aboard. Weeks later, a plane broke apart on landing, though there were no casualties. There have also been several ferry sinkings, one of which killed 400.
In response, the government has said it would ban commercial airlines from operating planes more than 10 years old, but most experts say maintenance must be improved and the number of flights per day limited.
Some also have called for Transportation Minister Hatta Radjasa to resign.
"He should not be allowed to wash his hands of this," Burhanuddin Napitulu, senior lawmaker from Indonesia's ruling party. "The public has lost all trust. They are too scared to take planes, trains or ferries any more because the disasters are never-ending."
Dozens of airlines have emerged since Indonesia started deregulating the industry in the late 1990s, and the rapid expansion has raised concerns that growth has outpaced the supply of trained aviation professionals, regulatory oversight, parts and ground infrastructure.
Although Garuda has had nine plane crashes in the past 30 years, killing 330, the airline has made strides recently on improving its safety regulations and training pilots, experts said.
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