BOMBAY, India -- A domestic jetliner slammed into a parked truck during takeoff and crashed minutes later near the western city of Aurangabad Monday, killing at least 55 of the 118 people aboard while another 61 people survived, airline officials and news reports said. Two passengers were still missing.
The Boeing 737 jetliner, operated by state-run Indian Airlines, was carrying 112 passengers and six crew when it left the airport at Aurangabad, a city popular among Western tourists because of the ancient paintings and temples at the nearby Ajanta and Ellora caves.
Indian Airlines spokesman Ashok Sharma said there were 10 Westerners on board the flight and at least three survived the crash: Y. Osawa, a U.S. citizen of Japanese origin; Joachim Ploetz, a German; and Mary Dyke, whose nationality was not immediately known.
'The remaining seven Westerners are feared dead,' Sharma said.
Nine survivors were listed in serious condition in an Aurangabad hospital.
The Press Trust of India news agency quoted eyewitnesses as saying the Boeing 737 hit a parked truck while taking off, maintained its flight for a few miles and then lost altitude.
As it crashed, the aircraft ran into high-voltage electricity lines, which may have ignited the blaze that engulfed the plane's rear section, the Press Trust said. Indian Airlines said it was investigating the cause of the crash.
Most of the survivors were reported seated in the front section, which on impact separated from the rest of the aircraft and escaped being consumed by the blaze.
The jetliner was on the last segment of a hopping flight from New Delhi to Bombay that had three stops en route. The flight covered popular tourist destinations in India, including Jaipur and Udaipur cities, which are known for their palaces.
Aurangabad is 180 miles northwest of Bombay, India's commercial capital.
This was the second crash of an airliner in India this year.
Last January, an Uzbek-owned, Soviet-built jetliner packed to full capacity crash-landed in thick winter fog in New Delhi but all 163 people on board survived.
The crash Monday was the second incident involving an Indian Airlines plane in two days. Over the weekend a Boeing 737 on a flight to India's troubled Kashmir state was hijacked by a Muslim gunman.
The militant, pretending to be disabled, concealed two pistols and ammunition inside his wooden crutches and leg plaster while boarding the flight in the Indian capital. After holding the 140 people aboard hostage for more than 11 hours at the airport in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, the hijacker was killed in a commando operation.
A total of 23 civilian planes have crashed in India since 1966. In the worst-ever disaster, 131 people were killed in October 1988 when a Boeing 737 crashed in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, north of Bombay.
In the latest crash, the jetliner split into three pieces and caught fire, airline officials and witnesses said.
'The plane had just taken off from Aurangabad when it came down outside the city,' said Matin Khan, another spokesman for the country's main domestic carrier.
The plane went down barely 4 miles from Aurangabad airport.
Khan said the survivors included four of the six crew members, including the pilot and co-pilot.