Rescue workers have retrieved six bodies from the site where an Indonesian passenger plane crashed into the sea close to the capital Jakarta on Monday 13 minutes after takeoff.
The Lion Air flight JT 610 had been carrying 189 people, including one child and two infants, when it disappeared from radar during a short flight from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang on the Indonesian island of Bangka, according to Basarnas, Indonesia’s national search and rescue agency.
The plane, a new Boeing 737 MAX 8, was carrying 181 passengers, as well as six cabin crew members and two pilots.
The recovered bodies have been taken to a hospital in east Jakarta, said Bambang Suryo Aji, director of operations for Basarnas.
Aji told a news conference that rescue workers had found debris appearing to be the plane’s tail. The main wreckage had still not been located.
Search and rescue teams were working against high waves and strong currents, in an area spanning 150 nautical miles, added Aji. Underwater robots were being used in the search effort.
Plane had reported problems the night before
The flight made a request to air traffic control to return to base about 12 miles out from takeoff, but did not indicate there was any emergency, Yohanes Sirait, spokesman for AirNav Indonesia, the agency that oversees air traffic navigation, told CNN.
The spokesman added that the aircraft would have been given priority landing upon such a request, but that air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane shortly after. The plane had not turned back, according to the radar.
The plane had reported problems the night before on a flight from Denpasar to Jakarta, Lion Air’s CEO Edward Sirait told local media TV1 in an interview.
Sirait said engineers had checked and repaired the problem and reported that the plane was ready to fly. The Lion Air CEO added that the carrier was preparing two aircraft to fly victims’ family members from Pangkal Pinang to Jakarta.
The captain of the plane, Bhavye Suneja, an Indian national, had more than 6,000 flight hours, and his copilot, named Harvino, had logged more than 5,000, according to a statement posted by Lion Air.
Speaking to reporters at the carrier’s headquarters in Jakarta, Sirait said the plane was “airworthy” and that the pilot had carried out all preflight inspections according to procedure. He added that the pilots had passed mandatory drug screening.
20 ministry officials on board
The plane took off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, greater Jakarta, at 6:21 a.m. local time, and had been due to land at around 7:30 a.m. in Pangkal Pinan, the largest city on Bangka.
Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said there were 20 ministry officials on board, who were returning to their posts in Pangkal Pinang after spending the weekend with their families in Jakarta for a public holiday.
Debris, life vests and a cellphone have been discovered in the water two nautical miles from the coordinates given as the crash site, rescue officials said.
Boats, a helicopter and 250 rescuers, including divers, were working at the crash site, some 34 nautical miles northeast of the coast in the Java Sea. The frogmen are searching in water up to 35 meters (114 feet) deep.
Authorities said they are still trying to locate the emergency locator transmitter which is currently not transmitting.
Lion Air plane had only flown 800 hours
Lion Air acquired the aircraft in August and it had flown only 800 hours, said Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of the National Transport Safety Committee (NTSC).
Manufacturer Boeing released a statement saying the company was “deeply saddened” by the loss of flight JT 610.
“We express our concern for those on board, and extend heartfelt sympathies to their families and loved ones,” the statement said.
The 737 MAX 8 is one of the latest versions of a jet that was introduced in 1967. More than 10,000 737s have been produced, making it the best-selling jetliner of all time.
In its statement, Boeing said it was ready to provide technical assistance to accident investigators, and that all questions about the incident should be directed to the NTSC.
According to the Aviation Safety Network, Lion Air was added to the European Union’s blacklist of banned carriers in July 2007, and removed from the list in June 2016.
‘Everything is on the table’
Former accident investigator Alan Diehl told CNN it looks like the accident occurred after a “sudden departure from controlled flight.”
“Air safety investigators will be looking at four broad categories — mechanical, human, weather and criminal. It appears now that weather was not a factor but other than that, everything is on the table.
“Clearly if you’re having an emergency you have to focus on troubleshooting first of all, and solving the problem, so you probably don’t have a lot of time to talk to the controllers. The fact that they had enough time to tell them that they wanted to return, that is significant.”