A passenger plane carrying 189 people crashed into the sea off Jakarta on Monday minutes after taking off on a domestic flight to an Indonesian tin-mining region.
Lion Air flight JT610, travelling from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang on the island of Bangka, lost contact with air traffic control about 13 minutes after it took off, shortly after its pilot had asked to return to base. Flight data showed that it made a sudden, sharp dive into the sea.
Officials said human remains had been recovered from the crash site, about nine miles (15km) off the coast, and that they did not expect to find survivors.
The plane was a Boeing 737 Max 8 jet, a new model that was launched globally only last year. The specific plane had been in use for less than three months.
Lion Air’s chief executive, Edward Sirait, told reporters the plane had suffered “a technical issue” on Sunday night but engineers had cleared it to fly on Monday morning. “This plane previously flew from Denpasar to Jakarta,” he said. “There was a report of a technical issue, which had been resolved according to procedure.”
Sirait did not elaborate on the specific issue, and said he had no plans to ground the rest of Lion Air’s Max 8 fleet. The airline operates 11 of the Boeing planes.
On Monday rescuers released footage of debris and personal items floating in the water at the crash site, including handbags, clothing, mobile phones, ID cards and driving licences. Dozens of divers from the national search and rescue agency and the military were working to retrieve the bodies of victims.
At Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta, relatives arrived at the airport crisis centre, many too distressed to talk to the media.
Tugi, a Jakarta resident, came to inquire about his friend Wendy. “I came to try and get some information, but they can’t give us any answers,” he said. “They don’t know yet, so I am going home and will monitor the media reports from there.”
Forensics officers have told family members of those on board that they can assist with the identification process by providing medical and dental records at the police hospital in East Jakarta.
About 20 of the 189 people on board were Indonesian finance department officials who had travelled to Jakarta for a conference. Three children, two of them infants, and eight crewmembers were also among those on board.
A statement from Indonesia’s search and rescue agency said the aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter had not sent out a distress signal despite being certified to work until August 2019.
The plane went down in waters about 30-35 metres (98-115ft) deep. Indonesia’s disaster agency spokesman posted video of debris on Twitter.
The incident is the first to be reported that involves the widely sold Max 8, an updated, more fuel-efficient version of the common 737. The first Boeing 737 Max jets were introduced into service in 2017.
Boeing and the US National Transportation Safety Board both said on Monday that they were providing assistance to Indonesian accident investigators.
The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, expressed his condolences in a televised address.
Australian government officials have been instructed not to fly with Lion Air until the cause of the crash can be determined.
Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, although its safety record is patchy. The crash could potentially be the country’s second worst air disaster since 1997, industry experts said.