Updated at 3:41 ET on 2018-10-29
Debris and body parts were found after a Lion Air jetliner with 189 people on board crashed into the sea on Monday minutes after takeoff from Jakarta's international airport, according to officials who said there likely were no survivors.
It's not clear what caused the crash, officials said.
The pilot of the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 asked to return to the airport before radio contact was lost with the control tower at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport about 13 minutes after the plane took off, the airline said. Flight JT-610 was bound for the city of Pangkal Pinang, on the island of Bangka Belitung off Sumatra when the crash occurred.
“We’ve scoured the surface of the sea and found no survivors,” Muhammad Syaugi, head of the National Search and Rescue Agency, told BenarNews by phone late on Monday.
The aircraft’s fuselage was believed to have sunk to the bottom of the sea, at a depth of about 30 meters (98.4 feet) and off the coast of Karawang regency about 70 km (43.4 miles) from Jakarta, he said, adding his agency had dispatched divers to find the plane’s main section and “retrieve bodies.”
“My prediction is no one survived, from looking at the body parts that have been found,” Syaugi told reporters earlier during a news conference, which was broadcast on local television stations. “We are focused on retrieving bodies."
Search teams found several body parts, as well as a crushed mobile phone, a torn bag, life vests and a large piece of wreckage believed to be from the doomed aircraft in waters off Karawang, he said. Investigators said they were focused on retrieving the cockpit voice and data recorders.
"There was no sign of burning, only broken parts," Bambang Suryo Aji, director of operations for Indonesia's national search and rescue agency (Basarnas), referring to the recovered debris. He said four ships were involved in search and rescue efforts.
An Air Lion official told the Associated Press there were two foreigners on the plane – its Indian pilot and an Italian passenger.
The plane, operated by the Indonesia-based budget carrier, was scheduled to land in Pangkal Pinang at 7:20 a.m. (local time).
The crew of a ship belonging to the state-owned company Pertamina first found the debris near its offshore site, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency.
Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait said the plane was carrying 181 passengers and eight crew members.
“Our pilot worked according to procedure and when he saw a problem he requested to return to base, but we know how it ended,” Sirait told a televised news conference.
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 had had a technical problem on a previous flight but that was resolved before Monday’s flight, he said.
The plane was built in 2018 and the airline took delivery of it in August, Lion Air said.
Boeing Company, in a statement posted on its website, said it would provide technical assistance to government investigators.
"We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of those on board." it said.
Washington will also assist Indonesia in its probe, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
“The United States extends its deepest condolences to those who lost family and loved ones,” Nauert said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Indonesia in this time of sorrow.”
Conditions were considered safe
At the headquarters of the National Search and Rescue Agency in Jakarta, a woman cried inconsolably as she arrived to get news about four of her relatives who were on the plane.
“They were supposed to attend a family event,” the woman, who gave her name as Veny, told BenarNews.
The weather conditions were considered safe when the plane took off, according to Dwikorita Karnawati, the director of the Meteorology, Geophysics and Climatology Agency.
“It was a bit cloudy but there were no clouds that could have endangered flights. When there is a significant weather condition, we usually issue a warning, so that flights can be postponed,” she told BenarNews.
According to Nufransa Wira Sakti, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Finance Ministry, 21 staffers were aboard the crashed airliner.
Sony Setiawan, another employee with the ministry, missed the flight because of a traffic jam.
“My knees became weak and I cried when I heard the news,” Sony told CNN Indonesia. “My friends were on the plane.”
With a population of 260 million and a growing middle class with disposable income, Indonesia is a lucrative market for budget airlines
The world’s largest archipelagic country, Indonesia has seen a boom in low-cost carriers since the early 2000s following the liberalization of the airline industry.
Lion Air is the largest among budget airlines operating in the country.
Lion Air made news in 2013 when one of its Boeing 737s, with more than 100 people aboard, crashed into the sea while trying to land on Bali island. There were no fatalities in the accident in which the aircraft was split in two.
In June, the European Union removed Indonesian airlines from its list of carriers that do not meet international safety standards.
The blanket ban preventing Indonesian carriers from operating in Europe was imposed in 2007 after a string of deadly air incidents.
Several Indonesian airlines, including flag carrier Garuda, were removed from the list in 2009 after steps were taken to improve safety.
Before Monday’s crash, Indonesia's last major commercial aviation accident occurred in 2014, when an Air Asia Airbus A320-216 plunged into the Java Sea during bad weather, killing all 155 passengers and seven crew on board.
The following year, a C-130 Hercules belonging the Indonesian Air Force crashed into the city of Medan on Sumatra island, killing 121 people on board and 22 people on the ground.
The Boeing 737 Max 8 was delivered to Lion Air in mid-August and put in use within days, according to the Associated Press. Malindo Air, a Malaysian subsidiary of Jakarta-based Lion Air, was the first airline to begin using the 737 Max 8 last year, it said.
Boeing has received 4,783 orders for the 737 MAX, of which 219 had been delivered by the end of September, according to Reuters. It said Southwest Airlines has received 23, making it the biggest operator of the type to date, followed by Air Canada with 18, American Airlines with 15 and Lion Air with 13.
Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.