Crash Feared After Indonesian Jetliner Vanishes

Ronna Nirmala and Ahmad Syamsudin
Jakarta
2021-01-09
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Crash Feared After Indonesian Jetliner Vanishes Relatives of passengers aboard missing Sriwijaya Air flight 182 wait for news at Supadio airport in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, after contact with the plane was lost shortly after take-off from Jakarta, Jan. 9, 2021.
AFP

Search teams were scouring waters off the coast of the Indonesian capital Saturday after a passenger plane with 62 people aboard lost radio contact and was suspected to have crashed into the Java Sea minutes after taking off on a domestic flight from Jakarta, officials said.

Sriwijaya Air flight 182 was en route to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province in Indonesian Borneo, when the Boeing 737-500 vanished from radar screens at 2:40 p.m. (local time), Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said.

“The president has directed us to mount a search operation,” he told a news conference, adding that four ships and several boats had been deployed to search for signs of the missing airliner.

Search officials said the aircraft was believed to have crashed near the Thousand Islands chain off the coast of Jakarta.

“The aircraft’s position is estimated to be between Laki Island and Lancang Island,” Bambang Suryo Aji, chief of operations and preparedness at the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), said during the news conference.

“According to information from the location, several pieces suspected to be from the aircraft have been found,” he said.

According to Aji, no signal from the airliner’s radio beacon – or emergency locator transmitter (ELT) – had been detected, which would help authorities confirm whether the 737 had crashed.

The 26-year-old aircraft was carrying 50 passengers and 12 crew members, Budi said. 

Data from the flight tracking service Flightradar24 showed the plane abruptly lose speed and altitude about four minutes after take-off from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

“Sriwijaya Air flight #SJ182 lost more than 10,000 feet of altitude in less than one minute, about 4 minutes after departure from Jakarta,” the tracking service said via Twitter.

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The scheduled departure of flight SJ-182 was delayed by 30 minutes because of heavy rain, Jefferson Irwin Jauwena, the airline’s director, told reporters. The flight from Jakarta to Pontiniak was expected to last about 90 minutes.

Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of the National Transportation Safety Committee, said it would deploy a team on Sunday to monitor search operations and prepare underwater recovery of the aircraft’s black boxes. 

The news website Kompas reported that a search team from the Transportation Ministry had found what appeared to be body parts.

Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus said fishermen reported hearing two explosions near Laki Island.

“This still needs to be verified by the police department in the Thousand Islands,” Yusri told reporters.

Local media reported that fishermen had also found metal pieces, cables and other debris suspected to be from the plane.

Military chief Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said two Super Puma helicopters and dozens of warships would join the search.

Meanwhile, relatives of passengers and crew on the missing flight were anxiously awaiting information about what had happened to their loved ones.

“I have four family members on the flight – my wife and three children,” Yaman Zai told news service Agence France-Presse (AFP) as he sobbed.

“[My wife] sent me a picture of the baby today ... How could my heart not be torn into pieces?”

If flight SJ-182 crashed, it would be the second crash involving a Boeing 737 in Indonesia in more than two years.

In October 2018, a Boeing 737 Max belonging to Indonesia’s largest budget carrier, Lion Air, crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board.

The aircraft’s faulty new anti-stall system was blamed for the crash, as well as that of another 737 Max in Ethiopia that killed 157 people in March 2019.

On Thursday, prosecutors in the United States fined Chicago-based Boeing U.S. $2.5 billion as they settled a criminal charge stemming from allegations that the airplane manufacturer had defrauded regulators overseeing the certification of the 737 Max, according to AFP.

Sriwijaya Air, another Indonesian budget airline, has been operating since 2003 and has had a strong safety record until Saturday’s disappearance of flight 182, the Associated Press reported.

There were no onboard casualties in four incidents recorded by the Aviation Safety Network, but a farmer died in 2008 when a Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737 veered from the runway because of a hydraulic problem, AP noted. 

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