Image credit: Reuters Image credit: Reuters

A police officer has said that 141 bodies have been recovered from the wreckage in Medan, Indonesia’s fourth largest city.

The military plane, which was carrying 122 people according to the Indonesian air force – but only listed 50 on its manifest - crashed within two minutes of leaving Soewondo Air Force Base on Sumatra.

Witnesses have reported that the plane seemed to explode before it struck a hotel and some residential buildings. Other witnesses have reported that the aircraft was shooting flames and smoke before it crashed.

"It passed overhead a few times, really low," a witness named Elfrida Efi told Reuters news agency.

"There was fire and black smoke. The third time it came by it crashed into the roof of the hotel and exploded straight away."

Reports indicate that that the number of dead includes 19 people killed on the ground.

Air force chief Air Marshal Agus Supriatna has said the pilot told the control tower that he needed to turn back because of engine trouble and the plane crashed while turning right to return to the airport.

The military has repeatedly revised the passenger list, a sign of how loosely the military keeps track of who gets on its planes, according to Alice Budisatrijo of the BBC.

There have been many military plane crashes in Indonesia in the past decade – a problem which is compounded by the fact that military planes often accept ‘retail’ customers, without listing them on the manifest.

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As the planes are often old and not in the best flying condition, this is a dangerous venture for civilian passengers, and one the Indonesian military has promised to police more thoroughly.

Between 2007 and 2009, the European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe because of safety concerns.

There have been five fatal crashes involving Indonesian air force planes since 2008, according to the Aviation Safety Network, which tracks aviation disasters.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, is known for its holiday destinations such as Bali. Sumatra, the island on which the plane crashed, is best known for its coffee beans, which are heavily exported around the world.