Indonesian passenger plane crashes, 188 feared dead

by Agencies

A Lion Air Boeing 737 passenger plane with 188 people on board has crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

Flight JT 610 was headed for Pangkal Pinang, in the Bangka Belitung Islands, when it lost contact and is believed to have ended up under water.

No survivors have been found.

The plane was a new type of aircraft and it is unclear what caused the crash. Lion Air is Indonesia’s largest low-cost carrier.

“The plane crashed into water about 30m to 40m deep,” Search and Rescue Agency spokesman Yusuf Latif told AFP news agency. “We’re still searching for the remains of the plane.”

Items believed to belong to passengers have been found in the water, including ID cards and driver’s licences, the search and rescue agency said on Twitter.

“We don’t know yet whether there are any survivors,” the agency’s head, Muhmmad Syaugi, told reporters.

“We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm.”

Search and rescue divers

At an earlier news conference, officials said the plane had been carrying 178 adults, one infant and two babies, as well as two pilots and five cabin crew. However, there are conflicting reports on the exact number of people on board.

Map of crash
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Flight JT 610 took off from Jakarta at 06:20 local time on Monday morning (23:30 GMT on Sunday).

It was due to arrive at Depati Amir airport in Pangkal Pinang an hour later but 13 minutes into the flight, authorities lost contact with the plane.

The pilot had asked to return to Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport, the head of Pangkal Pinang’s search and rescue office, Danang Priandoko, told local news outlet Kompas.

Relatives of passengers of Lion Air flight JT610 that crashed into the sea, arrive at crisis centre at Soekarno Hatta International airport near Jakarta, Indonesia, October 29, 2018.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRelatives of the passengers arrive at the crisis centre at Jakarta airport

The head of Indonesia’s disaster agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, has tweeted images which he said showed debris and personal belongings that came from the aircraft and had been found floating in the sea.

Lion Air said in a statement that the pilot and co-pilot were experienced, with more than 11,000 flight hours between them.

Three of those on board were trainee flight attendants and one was a technician.

At least 20 employees from Indonesia’s finance ministry were on board, the BBC has learned.

A spokesperson for Indonesia’s finance ministry Nufransa Wira Sakti said they worked at the finance ministry offices in Pangkal Pinang but had been in Jakarta for the weekend. They routinely took this flight.

The aircraft was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, a model only in commercial use since 2016.

Debris seen from an offshore oil rigImage copyrightSUTOPO PURWO NUGROHO
Image captionSutopo Purwo Nugroho shared this image on Twitter, taken from the Pertamina facilities showing debris and oil

Lion Air said the aircraft involved in the crash was made in 2018 and has only been operated by the airline since 15 August this year.

It is a single aisle plane used for short-haul travel.

Edward Sirait, chief executive of Lion Air Group, told Reuters: “We don’t dare to say what the facts are, or are not, yet.

“We are also confused about the why, since it was a new plane.”

The plane had had a technical problem on a previous flight, he said, but it had been resolved “according to procedure”.

In a statement, Boeing expressed sympathy for the victims and families and said it “stands ready to provide technical assistance to the accident investigation”.

Australia told government workers and contractors to stop using the airline until the findings of the investigation were out.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago, is heavily reliant on air travel, but many of its airlines have a poor safety record.

Lion Air flight 904 in the sea off Bali in 2013Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThis Lion Air plane landed in the sea off Bali in 2013, but all passengers and crew survived

Established in 1999, Lion Air operates flights domestically as well as a number of international routes in South East Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

It has had issues of safety and poor management in the past and was banned from flying into European airspace until 2016.

In 2013, Lion Air flight 904 crashed into the sea on landing at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport. All 108 people on board survived. In 2004, flight 538 from Jakarta crashed and broke up on landing at Solo City, killing 25 people.

In 2011 and 2012 there was a spate of incidents where pilots were found in possession of methamphetamines, in one incident hours before a flight.

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