JAKARTA: A Lion Air flight with 189 people on board crashed into the sea off Indonesia’s island of Java, shortly after taking off from Jakarta on Monday morning (Oct 29), officials said.
A spokesman for Indonesia’s search and rescue agency said that flight JT610 lost contact 13 minutes after takeoff, as it headed for Pangkal Pinang on the island of Bangka off the coast of Sumatra island.
A tugboat leaving the capital’s port had seen the craft falling, the spokesman added.
“It has been confirmed that it has crashed,” the spokesman, Yusuf Latif, said by text message when asked about the fate of the plane, which air tracking service Flightradar 24 identified as a Boeing 737 MAX 8.
“The plane crashed into water about 30 to 40 metres deep,” he told AFP. “We’re still searching for the remains of the plane.”
A total of 181 passengers – including two infants and one child – were on board the flight, the search and rescue agency said at a press conference. Two pilots and six crew members were also on board.
Debris thought to be from the plane, including aircraft seats, was found near an offshore refining facility, an official of state energy firm Pertamina said.
Wreckage had been found near where the Lion Air plane lost contact with air traffic officials on the ground, said Muhmmad Syaugi, the head of the search and rescue agency.
“We don’t know yet whether there are any survivors,” Syaugi told a news conference. “We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm.”
Flight JT610 took off around 6.20am (7.20am Singapore time) and was due to have landed in the capital of the Bangka-Belitung tin mining hub at 7.20am, the Flightradar24 website showed.
Preliminary flight tracking data shows the aircraft climbed to around 5,000ft before losing, and then regaining, height, before finally falling towards the sea.
It was last recorded at 3,650ft and its speed had risen to 345 knots, according to raw data captured by Flightradar24, which could not immediately be confirmed.
Its last recorded position was about 15km north of the Indonesian coastline, according to a Google Maps reference of the last coordinates reported by Flightradar24.
A search and rescue operation is under way. A telegram from the National Search and Rescue Agency to the air force has requested assistance with the search of a location at sea off Java, the Associated Press reported.
“We cannot give any comment at this moment,” said Edward Sirait, chief executive of Lion Air Group. “We are trying to collect all the information and data.”
FIRST REPORTED ACCIDENT INVOLVING BOEING 737 MAX
The accident is the first to be reported that involves the widely sold Boeing 737 MAX, an updated, more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer’s workhorse single-aisle jet. The first Boeing 737 MAX jets were introduced into service in 2017.
Lion Air took delivery of the aircraft on Aug 13 this year, and had clocked 800 hours of flight time, Indonesian officials said.
Its pilot and co-pilot had together amassed 11,000 hours of flying time, according to Lion Air.
Plane maker Boeing said in a tweet that it was aware of reports of an airplane accident and it was “closely monitoring” the situation.
Indonesia relies heavily on air transport to connect its thousands of islands but has a poor aviation safety record and has suffered several fatal crashes in recent years.
A 12-year-old boy was the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed eight people in mountainous eastern Indonesia in August.
In August 2015, a commercial passenger aircraft operated by Indonesian carrier Trigana crashed in Papua due to bad weather, killing all 54 people on board.
In 2014, an AirAsia plane crashed with the loss of 162 lives.
Indonesian investigators’ final report showed a chronically faulty component in a rudder control system, poor maintenance and the pilots’ inadequate response were major factors in what was supposed to be a routine flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
PAST LION AIR INCIDENTS
Lion Air, a low-cost airline, has been involved in a number of incidents.
Last year one of its Boeing jets collided with a Wings Air plane as it landed at Kualanamu airport on the island of Sumatra, although no one was injured.
In 2013 a Lion Air jet with a rookie pilot at the controls undershot the runway and crashed into the sea in Bali, splitting the plane in two. Several people were injured in the crash, although no one was killed.
Indonesia’s air travel industry is booming, with the number of domestic passengers growing significantly over the past decade, but it has acquired a reputation for poor regulation.
Last year the Indonesian air traffic controllers association revealed that the rate of take-off and landings in Jakarta allowed by state-run air navigation company AirNav was more than the airport could handle, increasing the chance of accidents.
The country’s carriers have in the past faced years-long bans from entering European Union and US airspace over their safety records.