PHOTO: CRASHED LION AIR MD-82 SOLDIERS AND WORKERS
Achmad Ibrahim  /  AP
Indonesian soldiers and emergency workers inspect the wreckage of a Lion Air jet that crashed in Solo, Central Java, Indonesia, on Wednesday.
updated 12/1/2004 8:58:48 AM ET 2004-12-01T13:58:48

Investigators picked through the wreckage of an Indonesian passenger plane that crashed after skidding off the runway in stormy weather, killing at least 26 people in the county’s worst air accident in six years.

At least 40 others were injured when the budget carrier Lion Air plane smashed through a fence at the end of the runway and ended up in a graveyard outside Adi Sumarmo airport in Solo in southern Indonesia Tuesday, airline workers and police said.

Authorities initially said that 32 people were killed, but later revised the toll to 26.

23 passengers missing
The aircraft was carrying 141 passengers and five crew members. Police said 23 passengers remained unaccounted for, but rescue workers said it was unlikely that any more bodies would be found at the scene.

IMAGE: PILOT'S WIFE MOURNS
Crack Palinggi  /  Reuters
Nani Fitriani, the wife of the jet's pilot, carries her husband's portrait as his body arrives at Sukarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta.
The body of the pilot of the MD-82 was recovered early Wednesday, said airline spokesman Hasyim Arsal.

State airline safety investigators were examining the plane and collecting pieces of the fuselage. The aircraft suffered major damage to its nose and rear.

Several people being treated for injuries in hospital said they had unfastened their seatbelts when they felt the plane touch down. Arsal said this contributed to the high death toll.

“Everyone panicked and was shouting hysterically,” said one survivor, Dedi, who was being treated in hospital on Wednesday with a broken leg. “People thought the plane was going to explode.” Like many Indonesians, Dedi goes by a single name.

Bad weather blamed
The airline blamed bad weather for the accident.

Heavy rain and high winds were lashing the runway when the plane landed, Arsal said. He speculated that pools of rain water on the runway may have caused the plane to skid and lose control.

Lion Air is one of several budget airlines that have emerged in Indonesia since 1999 when the industry was deregulated. The rapid expansion has raised some safety concerns, since many of the airlines are small and lease planes that are decades old.

In September 1998, a Garuda Airlines Airbus crashed into a jungle-covered mountain slope in Sumatra, killing all 234 people aboard. Two months later, a Silk Air Boeing 737 jet crashed into a river on Sumatra, killing 104 people.

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