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 a news agency, “We are now at the Bhayangkara Hospital in Semarang,” the Central Java provincial capital where the victims’ bodies were taken.
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.
The Sileri Crater at Dieng Plateau spewed cold lava, mud and ash as high as 50 meters (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.
Soldiers and police officers were dispatched and local residents and visitors were asked to evacuate in case of further eruptions, Nugroho said.
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 meters (656 feet) high and triggered the creation of three new craters.
Dwi Suryanto, head of culture and tourism in the Sileri area, said the crater was quiet Monday but remains closed to visitors. Other craters on the plateau are still open, he said.
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 meters (6,600 feet) above sea level.
Some 142 people were reportedly asphyxiated in 1979 when the volcano spewed gases.