Jakarta, January 10
Indonesian authorities on Sunday located the black boxes of the Sriwijaya Air jet that crashed into the sea soon after taking off from the capital Jakarta, as human body parts and suspected pieces of the plane were retrieved.
The Boeing 737-500 with 62 passengers and crew was headed to Pontianak in West Kalimantan on Saturday before it disappeared from radar screens four minutes after takeoff.
It is the first major aircrash in Indonesia since 189 passengers and crew were killed in 2018 when a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max in 2018 also plunged into the Java Sea soon after takeoff from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.
Even before the latest crash, more people had died in air crashes in Indonesia than in any other country over the past decade, according to the Aviation Safety Network’s database.
Indonesia National Transport Safety Committee chief Soerjanto Tjahjono said the locations of Flight SJ 182’s two black boxes had been identified.
“Hopefully, we can retrieve them soon,” said military chief Hadi Tjahjanto, without giving an estimated timeframe.
Pieces of wreckage were brought to Jakarta port by rescuers.
Authorities said they came from a depth of 23 metres (75 feet) near a group of islands off the Jakarta coast.
One twisted piece of metal was painted in Sriwijaya Air’s blue and red colours. Indonesian authorities said they had also retrieved body parts and clothing.
Police asked families to provide information such as dental records and DNA samples to help identify bodies.
The plane had 12 crew and 50 passengers on board, all Indonesians and including seven children and three babies.
President Joko Widodo, speaking at the palace in Bogor, expressed “deep condolences” over the disaster and urged the public to pray the missing people could be found.
Fishermen in the area between Lancang and Laki islands, part of an archipelago around Thousand Islands north of Jakarta’s coast, reported hearing an explosion around 2:30 pm on Saturday.
“We heard something explode, we thought it was a bomb or a tsunami since after that we saw the big splash from the water,” Solihin, who goes by one name, told The Associated Press by phone.
“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 added.
Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2:36 pm. It disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 29,000 feet (8,839 meters), he said.
There were 62 people on board, including seven children and three babies.
“We are aware of media reports from Jakarta regarding Sriwijaya Air flight SJ-182,” Boeing said in a statement, adding: “Our thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families. We are in contact with our airline customer and stand ready to support them during this difficult time.”
“WE FEEL POWERLESS”
Tracking service Flightradar24 said the aircraft took off at 2:36 p.m. local time (0736 GMT) and climbed to reach 10,900 feet within four minutes. It then began a steep descent and stopped transmitting data 21 seconds later.
There were no immediate clues on what caused the jet’s sudden descent. Most air accidents are caused by a cocktail of factors that can take months to establish, safety experts say.
A transport ministry spokeswoman said air traffic control had asked the pilot why the plane was heading northwest instead of on its expected flight path seconds before it disappeared.
The pilots had decades of experience between them with the flight captain reported to be a former Air Force pilot and his co-pilot at Sriwijaya Air since 2013, according to his Linkedin profile.
The Sriwijaya Air plane was a nearly 27-year-old Boeing 737-500, much older than Boeing’s problem-plagued 737 MAX model.
Older 737 models are widely flown and do not have the stall-prevention system implicated in the MAX safety crisis.
“We are in contact with our airline customer and stand ready to support them during this difficult time,” Boeing said in a statement, adding: “Our thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families.”
Distraught relatives waited in Pontianak about 740 km (460 miles) from Jakarta for news of their loved ones. At Jakarta’s main airport, a crisis centre was set up for families.
“We feel powerless, we can only wait and hope to get any information soon,” Irfansyah Riyanto, who had five relatives on the flight, told reporters.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences on Sunday and said India stood with the country in this hour of grief.
“Deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the unfortunate plane crash in Indonesia. India stands with Indonesia in this hour of grief,” Modi said in a tweet.
On social media, people began circulating the flight manifesto with photos and videos of those who were listed as passengers. One video shows a woman with her children waving goodbye while walking through the airport.
Founded in 2003, Jakarta-based Sriwijaya Air group flies largely within Indonesia’s sprawling archipelago. The budget airline has had a solid safety record, with no onboard casualties in four incidents recorded on the Aviation Safety Network database.
Sriwijaya Air President Director Jefferson Irwin Jauwena said the plane, which is 26 years old and previously used by airlines in the United States, was airworthy. He told reporters Saturday that the plane had previously flown to Pontianak and Pangkal Pinang city on the same day.
“Maintenance report said everything went well and airworthy,” Jauwena told a news conference. He said the plane was delayed due to bad weather, not because of any damage.
In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. The plane involved in Saturday’s incident did not have the automated flight-control system that played a role in the Lion Air crash and another crash of a 737 MAX 8 jet in Ethiopia five months later, leading to the grounding of the MAX 8 for 20 months.
The Lion Air crash was Indonesia’s worst airline disaster since 1997, when 234 people were killed on a Garuda airlines flight near Medan on Sumatra island. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.
Sriwijaya Air has only had several minor incidents in the past, though a farmer was killed in 2008 when landing plane went off runway due to a hydraulic issue.
The United States banned Indonesian carriers from operating in the country in 2007 but reversed the decision in 2016, citing improvements in compliance with international aviation standards. The European Union has previously had similar bans, lifting them in June 2018. AP/Reuters