JAKARTA, Indonesia – An Indonesian passenger jet carrying 189 people crashed into the waters off west Java minutes after it departed from the Jakarta Airport on Monday morning.

The Lion Air Flight JT-610 was on a short flight from the Indonesian capital city to Pangkal Pinang – the largest city on the Indonesian island of Bangka Belitung.

Minutes after it took off, Lion Air raised an alert, saying the flight had lost contact with air traffic controllers on ground.

Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency immediately launched a search and rescue operation, which led to the revelation that the Boeing-737 Max 8 aircraft had crashed into the sea.

UPDATES from the search and rescue operation

Mysterious return

Confirming previous statements by sources, Indonesia’s Air Navigation Authorities revealed that the plane requested a return to base right before it lost contact with air traffic controllers.

A report in Reuters quoted Yohanes Sirait, a spokesman for the country’s air navigation authority as saying, “The (traffic) control allowed that, but then it lost contact.”

Technical problem revealed

As search and rescue operations intensified, the CEO of Lion Air, Edward Sait revealed in a statement that the plane had reported a technical problem on Sunday night.

Sait said in a statement that the aircraft had been flying from Denpasar to Jakarta when pilots reported a problem with the plane.

However, he clarified that the plane had been cleared by engineers and was airworthy when it took off on Monday morning.

Lion Air earlier stated that the pilot and co-pilot of the plane had a combined total of 11,000 hours flying time.

Hopes and prayers

Governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan and Governor of West Java, Ridwan Kamil offered their condolences on Twitter.

Baswedan tweeted, “Our prayers for the victims and their families,” while Kamil offered his sympathies to families.

He expressed hopes that the search and rescue process goes smoothly.

In an official statement, the Boeing Company said it was “deeply saddened by the loss of Flight JT 610.”

The statement added, “We express our concern for those on board, and extend heartfelt sympathies to their families and loved ones. Boeing stands ready to provide technical assistance to the accident investigation. In accordance with international protocol, all inquiries about aviation accident investigations must be directed to the Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC).”

Government officials were on board

Nufransa Wira Sakti, spokesperson of Indonesia’s Finance Ministry revealed that 20 ministry officials were on board the Lion Air flight when it crashed.

Black box will determine the cause

Indonesia officials tried to shut down any speculation over the cause of the crash, amid growing fears about the fate of those on board.

An Indonesian Safety Transport Committee official Soerjanto Tjahjon said in a media statement that the cause of the crash could be ascertained only after the black box, cockpit voice recorder and data flight recorder are recovered.

Tjahjon said, “We will collect all data from the control tower. The plane is so modern, it transmits data from the plane and that we will review too. But the most important is the black box.”

 

Anxious relatives crowd airport

Local television footage broadcast footage from outside the Pangkal Pinang airport, which showed anxious relatives of passengers onboard waiting to hear from authorities.

Many people that were gathered outside the airport – which was the plane’s intended destination were seen in tears, as some spoke to TV reporters, expressing hope, while others demanded answers from authorities.

 

Size of rescue operation increases

Indonesian officials said that a team of 46 people had joined the rescue operations at the crash site.

Subsequent updates noted that ID cards, drivers licenses, cellphones, buoys and other objects believed to be of passengers that were aboard the flight were found by divers.

 

Request to return?

According to a report in Singapore’s Straits Times, right before it lost contact with air traffic controllers, the plane had requested a return to base.

Indonesian authorities did not initially confirm this piece of information.

 

Passenger numbers updated

There were a total of 189 people aboard the crashed Flight JT-610.

Syaugi said that there were 178 adults, 1 child, 2 babies, 2 pilots and 6 flight attendants on the plane.

 

‘No news on survivors’

Head of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency addressed a press conference, but there is no official statement on survivors so far.

Agency head Muhmmad Syaugi confirmed that wreckage of the plane had been found near the same area that the plane lost contact with air traffic officials on the ground.

He said that the aircraft crashed into Karawang Bay, in waters that are roughly 30-35 metres deep.

Syaugi said the plane lost contact two nautical miles from Karawang Bay and added, “On the sea surface we found debris.”

He added, “We don’t know yet whether there are any survivors. We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm.”

 

Boeing monitoring closely

Boeing Airplanes took to Twitter to confirm that the company was aware of the crash.

It wrote, “Boeing is aware of reports of an airplane accident and is closely monitoring the situation.”

Earlier, officials said that the plane that crashed was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, a newly launched and more fuel efficient replacement for the 737.

The particular model was initially introduced across the world last year.

In August this year, Lion Air received delivery of the plane that crashed on Monday.

This is the first accident to have been reported involving the Boeing 737 MAX.

 

Key update from Flightradar24 

Preliminary flight tracking data shows that the aircraft’s last recorded position was about 15 km (9 miles) north of the Indonesian coastline.

It said, “The aircraft climbed to around 5,000 feet (1,524 m) before losing, and then regaining, height, before finally falling towards the sea. It was last recorded at 3,650 feet (1,113 m) and its speed had risen to 345 knots.”

 

Monday morning shocker – From lost contact to crash

On Monday morning, Lion Air reported that it had lost contact with its Flight JT-610, which had departed from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang.

Lion Air said that it lost contact with the flight 13 minutes after it took off from Jakarta Airport at about 6.20 am local time on Monday.

In an initial statement to the media, Lion Air spokesman Danang Mandala Prihantoro said, “We can confirm that one of our flights has lost contact, its position cannot be ascertained yet.”

However, the Indonesian carrier did not immediately confirm how many passengers and crew members were aboard Flight JT-610.

Subsequently, Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency said that a search and rescue operation had been launched for the Boeing 737-800 plane.

Yusuf Latif, a spokesman for Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency issued a statement later and said, “It has been confirmed that the plane has crashed.”

According to air tracking service Flight Radar 24, the aircraft was a Boeing-737 Max 8 and was scheduled to reach Pangkal Pinan – the largest city on the Indonesian island of Bangka Belitung at around 7.30 am local time.

Initial details by the flight tracking service noted that the passenger jet was powered by two CFM LEAP-1B engines and that it had been delivered to Lion Air in August this year.

The plane tracker on the Flight Radar website showed it looping south on take-off and then heading north.

However, as the flight was heading over the Java Sea, its path ended abruptly and its last point on the tracker was seen close to the coast.

In a subsequent update, Flight Radar said that, “Preliminary data shows an increase in speed and decrease in altitude at last transmission.”

The tracking service said that it was processing detailed information transmitted by the aircraft.

Lion Air Group CEO Edward Sirait issued a brief statement saying, “We cannot give any comment at this moment. We are trying to collect all the information and data.”

Massive rescue operation ensues

Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency offered an initial clue, revealing that a tug boat leaving the port in Jakarta had seen the craft falling.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, head of information for Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency posted an update on Twitter a short while after the rescue operations began.

Nugroho confirmed that debris of the plane that crashed in the sea had been detected and that confirmed that a tugboat operation was underway.

He also posted footage of the debris found near an offshore refining facility, along with live images of the ongoing rescue operation which showed wreckage of the plane, including aircraft seats.

Nugroho confirmed in his following tweet that the plane had been carrying 178 passengers when it crashed.

The figure was later updated by authorities, who said that a total of 189 people were aboard the crashed Flight JT-610.

Officials said there were 178 adults, 1 child, 2 babies, 2 pilots and 6 flight attendants on the plane.

Addressing a brief news conference, Muhmmad Syaugi, head of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency confirmed that wreckage of the plane was found near the same area that the plane lost contact with air traffic officials on the ground.

Syaugi added, “We don’t know yet whether there are any survivors. We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm.”

According to a Flight Radar update, preliminary flight tracking data showed that the aircraft climbed to around 5,000 feet (1,524 m) before losing, and then regaining height.

It said that the aircraft finally fell towards the sea and was last recorded at 3,650 feet (1,113 m), when its speed had risen to 345 knots.

Flight Radar said that its last recorded position was about 15 km (9 miles) north of the Indonesian coastline.

Poor aviation safety

Indonesia’s biggest airline, Lion Air operates dozens of domestic and international destinations.

The archipelagic nation which has over 17,000 islands relies heavily on air transport but Indonesia has been criticized for its poor aviation safety.

In recent years, several fatal air tragedies have taken place, with the most recent one in August this year.

A plane that crashed in a mountainous region in eastern Indonesia in August killed eight people, with a 12-year-old boy being the lone survivor of the crash.

Before that, all 54 people aboard a passenger aircraft operated by Indonesian carrier Trigana died when the plane crashed in Papua due to bad weather in August 2015.