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Indonesian rescuers find bodies near wreckage of jet that 'fell' from sky

AFP - Getty Images

Debris from the crashed Sukhoi Superjet-100 is seen on the slope of Salak Mountain in Indonesia on Thursday.

Updated at 4:10 a.m. ET: Indonesian rescuers said Thursday that they had discovered bodies near the wreckage of a Russian-made airliner that disappeared from radar south of the capital Jakarta.

The crew of a helicopter searching for the jet had earlier spotted debris on the edge of a cliff in a mountainous area at 5,500 feet, a senior rescue official said.

The Sukhoi Superjet-100, carrying up to 50 people, lost contact with air traffic controllers during a demonstration flight Wednesday, officials said.

The Indonesian military said the plane "fell" from the sky, Reuters reported.

"The airplane crashed at the edge of Salak mountain," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told a news conference. "An investigation must be done immediately and thoroughly."

Search and rescue teams reached the rugged site on Thursday afternoon local time and saw several bodies, The Associated Press reported. Spokesman Gagah Prakoso said the bodies would be placed in nets and lifted by ropes to hovering helicopters.

Adek Berry / AFP - Getty Images

Indonesian soldiers along with members of a search and rescue team try to reach the site of the wreckage.

A photo taken from the rescue helicopter that found the debris appeared to show that the plane flew into an almost vertical wall of rock on an inaccessible part of the mountain.

Small pieces of white debris could be seen scattered down an exposed stretch of cliff surrounded by forest. Rescue officials said earlier that the walk to the site would take at least six hours.

'Completely ready to fly'
The aircraft was carrying Indonesian businessmen, Russian Embassy officials and journalists. Dimitry Solodov from the embassy said there were eight Russians on board, including pilots and technicians.

Those on board included eight crew and 42 guests, according to figures from the Russian Embassy.

The flight took off from Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma Airport at about 2 p.m. local time (3 a.m. ET) and disappeared from radar near the 7,200-foot Mount Salak in West Java, national search agency spokesman Gagah Prakoso told The Associated Press. It had been scheduled to return 50 minutes later.

AFP - Getty Images

A handout photo provided by Sergey Dolya shows Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 taking off for a demonstration flight in Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma airport, on May 9.

Citing an official, Reuters reported that radio contact was lost with the plane after it descended from 10,000 feet to 6,000 feet.

"I saw a big plane passing just over my house," said Juanda, a villager who lives near Mount Salak told local station TVOne. "It was veering a bit to one side, the engine roaring. It seemed to be heading toward Salak, but I didn't hear an explosion or anything."

Olga Kayukova, a spokeswoman for Russia's United Aircraft Corporation, told Reuters the Sukhoi Superjet-100 was making a second flight as part of the demonstration program.

"The first flight was carried out in a normal mode ... The pre-flight preparations were carried out in full and the plane was completely ready to fly," she said. "According to information from Indonesia, the contact with the plane was broken after 20 minutes from the take-off ...  search works are under way."

An Indonesian charter airline Sky Aviation posted on its Facebook account what it said was a picture of a Sukhoi Superjet-100 at the airport.

Russia Today reported that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered a special commission to investigate the incident. Relatives of passengers that had gathered at the airport began crying when news of the wreckage was announced, according to the Russia Today story.

Mast Irham / EPA

Relatives of passengers on the missing Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft react as they check the list of the passangers at Halim Perdana Kusuma Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 9.

With a capacity of up to 103 passengers, the Sukhoi's Superjet-100 was developed in partnership with Boeing and Italy's Finmeccanica. The plane is the first completely new airliner designed by Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The missing plane was on the fourth stop of a six-nation "Welcome Asia!" roadshow after having already been to Myanmar, Pakistan and Kazakhstan.

It was supposed to head next to Laos and Vietnam. Russia has hoped that the short- to mid-range jet, which made its maiden run in 2008, will help it break into international markets dominated by Boeing and Airbus.

Sukhoi, which has orders for 170 planes, plans to produce up to 1,000 Superjets, primarily for foreign markets.

Msnbc.com staff, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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