Indonesian rescue helicopter crashes near active volcano, 8 people dead

Smoke billows from Sileri Crater after it erupted in Dieng, Central Java, Indonesia, July 2, 2017.
Smoke billows from Sileri Crater after it erupted in Dieng, Central Java, Indonesia, July 2, 2017. AP Photo/Dwiana Jati Setiaji

JAKARTA, Indonesia – A rescue helicopter crashed while heading to help evacuate residents near an active volcano on Indonesia‘s main island, killing all eight people on board, officials said Monday.

The helicopter crashed about three minutes before arriving at Dieng Plateau, the popular tourist area where the volcanic eruption Sunday injured at least 10 people. The aircraft reportedly hit a cliff on Butak Mountain in the Temanggung district of Central Java province.

All eight people on board were killed, said Maj. Gen. Heronimus Guru, deputy operations chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency. He told The Associated Press, “We are now at the Bhayangkara Hospital in Semarang,” the Central Java provincial capital where the victims’ bodies were taken.

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Brig. Gen. Ivan Tito, director of operation and training at the search agency, told TVOne station in a live interview from Temanggung, that the victims were four navy officers and four rescuers. He also said the Indonesian-made Dauphin AS365 helicopter was airworthy.

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The Sileri Crater at Dieng Plateau spewed cold lava, mud and ash as high as 50 metres (164 feet) into the sky when it erupted Sunday morning, said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

The sudden eruption occurred while about 17 visitors were around the crater. Ten people were injured and were treated at a hospital.

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Soldiers and police officers were dispatched and local residents and visitors were asked to evacuate in case of further eruptions, Nugroho said. The crater appeared to be quieter Monday morning, and all visitors to the plateau have been evacuated.

Sileri is the most active and dangerous among some 10 craters at Dieng Plateau. Its most recent eruption was in 2009, when it unleashed volcanic materials up to 200 metres (656 feet) high and triggered the creation of three new craters.

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Dieng Plateau, located in the Central Java district of Banjarnegara, is a popular tourist attraction because of its cool climate and ninth-century Hindu temples. It sits about 2,000 metres (6,600 feet) above sea level.

Some 142 people were reportedly asphyxiated in 1979 when the volcano spewed gases.

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