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Military plane crashes in Indonesia's 3rd largest city, killing at least 55

Tuesday's crash, in which the death toll expected to rise, will put a fresh spotlight on Indonesia's woeful air safety record.

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Rescuers search for victims at the site where a military cargo plane crashed in Medan, Indonesia, Tuesday. The C-130 Hercules plane crashed into a residential neighborhood in the country's third-largest city Medan.

Yudha Lesmana/AP

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An Indonesian air force Hercules C-130 plane crashed into two houses in a residential neighborhood on Tuesday in the country’s third largest city Medan, killing at least 55 people.

The police chief of the North Sumatra province, Eko Hadi Sutedjo, told reporters that the plane was carrying 100 passengers, including around 17 military personnel, CBS reported. So far, 55 bodies have been recovered.

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None of the bodies has been identified and it's unclear how many of the victims are military personnel and how many are civilians, Mr. Sutedjo said.

A BBC correspondent in Indonesia, Alice Budisatrijo, reported that only the tail of the aircraft was recognizable, while the rest of the plan had turned to debris.

Some people are still trapped in the debris of nearby buildings, and it is too early to know the final death count, Ms. Budistrijo said.

The crash took place just two minutes after taking off from the Soewondo air force base, officials said. The pilot reportedly told the control tower that the plane should turn back because of engine trouble, but it crashed just as the plane was turning towards the airport.

The Hercules transport plane was manufactured in 1964, but a military spokesman said he was confident that the plane was in good condition.

The crash is "bound to put a fresh spotlight on Indonesia's woeful air safety record and its aging planes,” wrote Reuters correspondent Roni Bintang.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, an Indonesian military or police aircraft has been involved in at least 10 fatal accidents over the last ten years.  

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It is also the second time in the last decade that a plane crashed in a Medan neighborhood. In September 2005, a Mandala Airlines Boeing 737 crashed after leaving Medan’s Polonia airport. The crash took place in a crowded residential neighborhood and killed 143 people, including 30 who were on the ground.

Medan has a population of around 3.4 million residents. It is the third most populous city in Indonesia after the capital Jakarta and Surabaya.