A Lion Air airliner that took off Monday from Jakarta, Indonesia's largest city, bound for a nearby island, crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff, with 189 passengers on board, according to the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency, currently responsible for the sinister work of finding survivors and rest.
Rescuers began Monday to extract debris from the seabed, including parts of the aircraft fuselage, identity cards and bags belonging to passengers on board. People at a nearby offshore refining facility also found plane remains, including airplane seats, in the water. Muhammad Syaugi, head of the search and rescue agency, said he was not able to confirm that one of the passengers on board had survived.
"We hope, we pray" for the survivors, said Syaugi at a press conference.
Lion Air JT-610 lost contact with air traffic controllers and fell more than 13 meters about 13 minutes after take-off, diving into the sea, officials said, adding that people on a nearby tug had saw the plane go down. The FlightAware and Flightradar24 air traffic websites showed that the aircraft was flying erratically, barely reaching more than 5,000 feet, before dropping quickly and disappearing from the radar.
Among those on board were two pilots, six flight attendants and two babies. Twenty employees of the Indonesian Ministry of Finance were also on board.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the Indonesian National Disaster Agency, shared a video on Twitter of rescuers on tugs searching for debris off the coast of Karawang, a region of West Java near Jakarta . He also shared pics mutilated cell phones and a ripped bag that rescuers have recovered. Rescuers will also dive for debris and remains in the sea, which is approximately 114 feet deep.
The aircraft, a Boeing 737 Max 8, was purchased this year by Lion Air, the second-largest low-cost airline in Southeast Asia. The aircraft is one of Boeing's newest aircraft and has several hundred hours of flight time since it began operation by Lion Air on August 15th. It took off at 6:21 am local time and was expected to arrive at 7:20 am at Pangkal Pinang, the largest city on the Indonesian island near Bangka.
Pramintohadi Soekarno, Acting Director General of Civil Aviation, announced the establishment of a Crisis Center at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal. Pinang, intended for families of passengers and crew members aboard the aircraft.
Commander Bhavye Suneja, who had flown more than 6,000 hours, and his co-pilot, who had flown more than 5,000 hours, ordered the flight, officials said.
Indonesian officials and experts said the exact cause of the accident would not be clear until the flight data, including those from the black box of the plane, would not have been recovered. A statement from the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation said the plane had asked to return to the base before losing contact. The sky was clear and there was no anomaly in the weather.
Aircraft manufacturers and carriers have long made Indonesia one of the fastest growing aviation markets, with a growing middle class. Air travel is a necessity to travel the vast archipelago of Indonesia. Domestic passenger traffic has tripled in the last 12 years to reach 97 million in 2017.
But the country has long had mixed reviews of aviation safety, and all its airlines have only been removed from the European Union's aviation safety list and considered safe to travel in June. Lion Air was licensed to fly in US Airspace in 2016.
Lion Air, created in 1999, is the largest Indonesian low-budget airline. He has been involved in a number of incidents in recent years, but none has resulted in casualties. One of his jet planes collided with a plane from another carrier, Wings Air, on the island of Sumatra last year, but no one been injured. In 2013, a Lion Air plane crashed into the sea after landing on the island of Bali. Several were injured, but no one was killed.
In 2004, a Lion Air plane skidded during heavy rains after landing in the city of Solo, killing 31 people.
Timothy McLaughlin in Hong Kong contributed to the reports. Mahtani reported from Hong Kong. Rohmah reported from Jakarta.