A Lion Air passenger plane that took off Monday from Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest city, heading to a nearby island crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff with 189 people on board, according to Indonesia’s national search-and-rescue agency, which is now tasked with the grim job of looking for survivors and remains.
Rescuers on Monday began pulling out debris from the depths of the sea, including parts of the aircraft’s fuselage, ID cards and bags belonging to the passengers on board. People at an offshore refining facility nearby also found remains of the aircraft, including plane seats, in the water. Muhammad Syaugi, head of the search-and-rescue agency, said he was unable to confirm that any one on board had survived.
“We hope, we pray” for survivors, Syaugi said in a news conference.
Lion Air JT-610 lost contact with air traffic officials and fell from over 3,000 feet about 13 minutes after takeoff, plunging into the sea below, officials said, adding that people on a nearby tugboat watched the plane descend. The air traffic websites FlightAware and Flightradar24 showed the plane climbing erratically, barely reaching above 5,000 feet, before quickly dropping and disappearing from radar.
Among those on board were two pilots, six flight attendants and two babies. Twenty employees from Indonesia’s Finance Ministry were also on board.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia’s national disaster agency, shared a video on Twitter of rescuers on tugboats looking for debris off the coast of Karawang, an area in West Java close to Jakarta. He also shared photos of mangled cellphones and a torn bag that rescuers recovered. Rescuers will also dive to find debris and remains in the sea, which has a depth of about 114 feet.
The aircraft, a Boeing 737 Max 8, was purchased this year by Lion Air, Southeast Asia’s second-largest low-cost airline. The plane is one of Boeing’s newest, and had flown several hundred hours since Lion Air started operating it on Aug. 15. It departed at 6:21 a.m. local time and was scheduled to arrive about 7:20 a.m. at Pangkal Pinang, the largest city on the nearby Indonesian island of Bangka.
A crisis center has been set up at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and the Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinangfor families of passengers and crew members on the plane, said Pramintohadi Soekarno, the acting director general of civil aviation.
The flight was commanded by Capt. Bhavye Suneja, who had more than 6,000 flight hours, and his co-pilot, who had more than 5,000 hours, officials said.
Indonesian officials and experts say the exact cause of the crash will not be clear until flight data, particularly from the plane’s black box, is retrieved. A statement from Indonesia’s Transport Ministry said the plane had requested to return to base before it lost contact. Skies were clear and there were no abnormalities in the weather.
Aircraft makers and carriers have long prized Indonesia as one of the region’s fastest growing aviation market, with a rising middle-class. Air travel is a necessity to dart across Indonesia’s large archipelago of islands. Domestic passenger traffic has tripled over the past 12 years to 97 million in 2017.
But the country has long received mixed reviews on airline safety, and all its airlines were only removed from the European Union’s air safety list and deemed safe to travel on this June. Lion Air was allowed to fly in E.U. air space in 2016.
Lion Air, established in 1999, is Indonesia’s largest budget airline. It has been involved in a number of incidents in recent years, but none with fatalities. One of its jets collided with a plane from another carrier, Wings Air, on the island of Sumatra last year but no one was injured. In 2013, a Lion Air flight crashed into the sea after landing on the resort island of Bali. Several were injured, but no one was killed.
In 2004, a Lion Air plane skid off the runway in heavy rains when it landed in the city of Solo, killing 31.
Timothy McLaughlin in Hong Kong contributed to reporting. Mahtani reported from Hong Kong. Rohmah reported from Jakarta.