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Indonesian plane crashes after taking off

January 10, 2021 | 10:22

A Sriwijaya Airplane with 62 passengers aboard crashed shortly after taking off from Jakarta, said the Head of Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee, Suryanto Cahyono.

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Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 from Jakarta to Pontianak, in Indonesian Borneo, lost contact at 2:40 p.m. Western Indonesian Time (2:40 a.m. ET) on Saturday, CNN reported.

Maj. Gen Bambang Suryo Aji of Basarnas, Indonesia's national search and rescue agency, told reporters that the plane is believed to have crashed between the islands of Laki and Lancang, in the Thousand Islands chain northwest of the capital, Jakarta. Basarnas is now conducting a search operation.

The missing Indonesia plane, a Boeing 737-500, was carrying 50 passengers -- 43 adults and 7 children -- as well as 12 crew members, Indonesian Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said during a press conference.

Indonesian news agency Antara reported Sunday that the Jakarta Metropolitan Police have set up a command post at a hospital in East Jakarta for families to identify bodies from the crash if any are recovered.

So far, authorities have yet to report the recovery of any human remains during the search for the missing aircraft.

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Local fishermen and rescuers hold suspected remains of the Sriwijaya Airplane flight SJ182 Photo: Reuters

Indonesian airline Sriwijaya Air’s chief executive, Jefferson Irwin Jauwena, told a news conference that the plane had been in good condition before the flight.

The nearly 27-year-old Boeing 737-500 was much older than Boeing’s problem-plagued 737 MAX model, one of which crashed off Jakarta in late 2018, killing all 189 people aboard the Lion Air flight, said Freemalaysiatoday.

Older 737 models are widely flown and do not have the system implicated in the MAX safety crisis.

A Boeing spokeswoman said, “We are aware of media reports from Jakarta, and are closely monitoring the situation. We are working to gather more information”.

Reliable tracking service Flightradar24 said the Boeing jet took off at 7.36 am GMT and climbed to reach 10,900 feet within four minutes. It then began a steep descent and stopped transmitting data 21 seconds later.

A transport ministry spokeswoman said air traffic control at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport had asked the pilot why the plane was heading northwest instead of on its expected flight path just seconds before it disappeared.

There were no immediate clues on what may have caused the sudden descent and safety experts to stress most air accidents are caused by a cocktail of factors that can take months to establish.

Body parts, debris found after the plane crash

Indonesian rescuers pulled out body parts, pieces of clothing, and scraps of metal from the Java Sea early Sunday morning, a day after a Boeing 737-500 with 62 people on board crashed shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, officials said.

Officials were hopeful they were honing in on the wreckage of Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 after sonar equipment detected a signal from the aircraft.

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Indonesian Navy divers check their equipment before a search and rescue operation for Sriwijaya Air Flight 182, which lost contact with air controllers shortly after takeoff on Saturday. Photo: CNN

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi told reporters that authorities have launched massive search efforts after identifying “the possible location of the crash site.”

“These pieces were found by the SAR team between Lancang Island and Laki Island,” National Search and Rescue Agency Bagus Puruhito in a statement.

Bambang Suryo Aji, the National Search and Rescue Agency’s deputy head of operations and preparedness, said rescuers collected plane debris and clothes that were found by the fishermen. They handed the items over to the National Transportation Safety Committee for further investigation to determine whether they were from the missing plane.

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Indonesian rescue members carry a body bag containing suspected remains of the Sriwijaya Airplane flight SJ182 at Jakarta International Container Terminal port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 9, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Solihin, 22, a fisherman from Lancang Island, said he and two other fishermen heard an explosion around 30 meters from them.

“We thought it was a bomb or a tsunami since after that we saw the big splash from the water after the explosion. It was raining heavily and the weather was so bad. So it is difficult to see around clearly. But we can see the splash and a big wave after the sounds. We were very shocked and directly saw the plane debris and the fuel around our boat,” he said.

A worrying record

In October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea in Indonesia after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. The Boeing 737 Max 8 plane was scheduled to make a one-hour journey to Pangkal Pinang on the island of Bangka.

The improper design and certification of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, coupled with an overwhelmed flight crew battling a malfunctioning system they could not properly identify, led to the crash, according to an October 2019 report by Indonesian authorities.

In 2014, Indonesian AirAsia Flight 8501 claimed the lives of all 162 people on board after crashing into the Java Sea, while flying from Surabaya to Singapore.

And in the year before that, Lion Air was involved in two accidents. A Boeing 737 missed the runway on landing and crashed into the sea near Bali, forcing passengers to swim or wade to safety, while another Boeing 737 collided with a cow while touching down at Jalaluddin Airport in Gorontalo on the island of Sulawesi.

In 2007, the European Union banned all 51 Indonesian airlines from its airspace after a Garuda Indonesia plane with 140 people on board overshot the runway in Yogyakarta in March and burst into flames, killing 21 people on board.

Standards have since improved, with all Indonesian airlines cleared from that blacklist by June 2018.

Indonesia, an archipelago nation of more than 13,000 islands, has seen a boom in domestic aviation in recent years, with passenger traffic tripling between 2005 and 2017, according to Australian consultancy the CAPA-Center for Aviation.

The country of 270 million people relies heavily on air transport to commute between islands across the archipelago, which stretches over more than 3,000 miles, around the same distance between London and New York.

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Malie Nguyen