Lion Air crash: 189 feared dead after Indonesia plane plunges into sea

Disaster workers find crushed smartphone, books and aircraft parts among wreckage in sea

Jon Sharman,Tim Wyatt
Monday 29 October 2018 07:52 GMT
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Lion Air crash: 189 feared dead after Indonesia plane plunges into sea

An Indonesian air liner has crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta with 189 people on board.

Search and rescue workers rushed to the scene and began sifting through wreckage in waters up to 35m deep.

The operations director of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, Bambang Suryo Aji, said that he no longer expected any survivors and the rescue efforts were now focused on finding bodies.

Low-cost airline Lion Air said the brand-new aircraft, on a short-haul flight to Pangkal Pinang near Sumatra, was carrying 181 passengers, including one child and two babies, and eight crew members.

Friends and relatives of those on board prayed and hugged each other as they waited at Pangkal Pinang’s airport, while at the National Search and Rescue Agency headquarters in Jakarta, family members turned up, hoping desperately for news.

One woman there said her sister, who was about to get married, had been on board the flight. "We are here to find any information about my younger sister, her fiance, her in-law to be and a friend of them," she said.

Wiping away tears from reddened eyes, she added: "No one provided us with any information that we need. We're confused. We hope that our family is still alive."

At least 23 Indonesian government officials were on the flight and the country’s finance minister, Sri Mulyani, also arrived at the agency’s offices to question staff.

There were also two foreigners on board: an Indian pilot named by the country's Jakarta embassy as Bhavye Suneja and an Italian citizen.

About 300 people including police officers, fishermen and soldiers are involved in the search. The bodies of passengers, ID cards, personal belongings and aircraft debris are starting to be pulled from the waters where the plane sank.

So far six black body bags containing the remains of people on board when the aircraft hit the water have been filled and laid out at Tanjung Priok Harbour, a major container port to the north of Jakarta.

The president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, said that he had ordered the National Commission for Transportation Safety to begin an investigation immediately.

Speaking at a conference in Bali, Mr Widodo said that he felt the anxiety of the families waiting for news of their loved ones and urged Indonesians to "keep on praying".

Lion Air’s president-director Edward Sirait said the jet had had a “technical problem” during its previous flight from Bali to Jakarta but that the problem had been fully repaired.

Boeing spokesman Paul Lewis said the aerospace firm was “closely monitoring the situation” but did not provide details on the aircraft in question, a 737 Max 8 which was delivered in August and began flying within days.

In a statement, the company said it was "deeply saddened" by the disaster and offered its "heartfelt sympathies" to the families and friends of the missing passengers.

The jet took off at 6.20am and crashed a mere 13 minutes later, transport ministry officials said. According to publicly available flight data, the first clue that something was wrong came just two minutes into the flight when the 737 reached 2,000ft altitude.

It dropped more than 500ft and veered to port before climbing again. No distress signal was received before all data was lost at 3,650ft.

The pilots had asked to turn back to base shortly before losing contact with air traffic control, according to a spokesman for Indonesia’s air navigation authorities.

Investigators will attempt to recover the craft’s so-called black boxes – secure devices that record flight data and voices in the cockpit.

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Kamil Ridwan, the governor of West Java, said on Twitter that he hoped the search and rescue operation would proceed “quickly and smoothly”, adding: “Hopefully the families of the passengers who get this disaster can be given fortitude & patience for this accident.”

Search and rescue teams have yet to identfy the exact location of the plane's hull underwater and operations are expected to continue at the site to recover debris and bodies for at least seven days.

The disaster is the worst accident to affect Lion Air, which was only founded in 1999. The only other fatal incident in its history was in 2004, when one of its aircraft crashed during landing, killing 25 of the 163 people on board.

A string of deadly crashes have left Indonesia with one of the worst reputations for safety in the world. The country's airlines were only removed from the European Union's blacklist in June, and have also in the past been banned from American airspace as well.

Australia's foreign affairs ministry has instructed all government officials from the country to avoid flying on Lion Air or its subsidiary airlines after the disaster. The statement posted on the ministry's website said the decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear.

Monday's crash is the second-worst in the country, after a Garuda Indonesia flight crashed in the city of Medan, killing 214.

Additional reporting by agencies

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