Wreck found of Russia jet on Indonesia demo flight

Thursday, May 10, 2012

CIDAHU, Indonesia -- Search and rescue teams found the wreckage of a Russian-made passenger plane on a mountain Thursday after it disappeared during a demonstration flight in western Indonesia. The conditions of the 48 people on board are not known.

Helicopters had resumed a search halted earlier because of bad weather. They saw the wreckage along a cliff on the mist-shrouded mountain, Maj. Ali Umri Lubis, of Atang Sanjaya Air base, told Metro TV.

"The helicopter just informed us that they spotted the wreckage about 10 minutes ago," Lubis said. "It was at about 5,000 feet. The condition of the wreckage is still unclear."

The Sukhoi Superjet-100, Russia's first new passenger jet since the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago, left Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in Jakarta on Wednesday afternoon for what was supposed to be the second demonstration flight of the day. Potential buyers and journalists were on board.

The jet dropped off the radar 21 minutes later, immediately after the crew asked air traffic control for permission to drop from 10,000 feet to 6,000 feet, said Daryatmo, chief of the national search and rescue agency.

They didn't explain the change of course, he said. Drizzle was falling at the time, but it was not stormy and there was no obvious signs of trouble.

More than 800 people, including soldiers and police, were taking part in the search and rescue operation.

Though weather was clear Thursday, they were battling rugged and often steep terrain.

Russia's aerospace industry was badly undermined in the economic turmoil following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Superjet -- developed by the civil aircraft division of Sukhoi with the co-operation with Western partners -- was widely considered the country's chance to regain a foothold in the international passenger plane market.

It's "Welcome Asia!" tour, which also included stops in Pakistan, Myanmar and Kazakhstan, was intended to drum up support.

Sunaryo from PT. Trimarga Rekatama, the company that helped organize Wednesday's event, said 48 people were on board.

Among them were eight Russians, all from Sukhoi companies, none of them diplomats, he said, correcting reports earlier by search and rescue officials.

The passengers included one American, a consultant with PT. Sriwijaya Airline, and a Frenchman with aircraft engine-maker Snecma, he said.

The Superjet -- a 75- to 95-seat plane -- was being touted as a challenger to similar-sized jets from Canada's Bombardier Inc. and Brazil's Embraer SA.

It made its inaugural commercial flight last year.

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

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