189 feared dead after jet crashes into the sea in Indonesia

A Lionair plane. (AP Photo/Trisnadi, File)
A Lionair plane. (AP Photo/Trisnadi, File)
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A passenger jet with 189 people on board has crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

Indonesia’s disaster agency posted photos online of a crushed smartphone, books, bags and parts of the Lion Air jet’s fuselage that had been collected by search and rescue vessels.

The airline said the brand-new aircraft, on an hour-and-10-minute flight to Pangkal Pinang on an island chain off Sumatra, was carrying 181 passengers, including one child and two babies, and eight crew members.

Indonesian TV broadcast pictures of a fuel slick and debris field.

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Distraught friends and relatives prayed and hugged each other as they waited at Pangkal Pinang’s airport.

The National Search and Rescue Agency’s deputy chief, Nugroho Budi Wiryanto, said some 300 people including soldiers, police and local fishermen are involved in the search and that so far it has recovered no bodies - only identity cards, personal belongings and aircraft debris.

At the agency’s headquarters in Jakarta, family members turned up, hoping desperately for news.

Feni, who uses a single name, said her soon to be married sister was on the flight, planning to meet relatives in Pangkal Pinang.

“We are here to find any information about my younger sister, her fiance, her in-law to be and a friend of them,” said Feni.

“We don’t have any information,” she said, as her father wiped tears from reddened eyes. “No one provided us with any information that we need. “We’re confused. We hope that our family is still alive,” she said.

Indonesia’s finance minister, Sri Mulyani, also arrived at the agency and met with its chief, seeking information about 20 finance ministry staff who were on the flight after attending a ministry event in Jakarta.

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The search and rescue agency said the flight ended in waters off West Java that are 98ft to 115ft deep.

The agency’s chief Muhammad Syaugi told a news conference that divers are trying to locate the wreckage.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 was delivered to Lion Air in mid-August and put in use within days, according to aviation website Flightradar24.

Malindo Air, a Malaysian subsidiary of Jakarta-based Lion Air, was the first airline to being using the 737 Max 8 last year.

The Max 8 replaced the similar 800 in the Chicago-based planemaker’s product line.

Boeing spokesman Paul Lewis says Boeing is “closely monitoring the situation” but did not provide details on the aircraft in question.

The pilot of Flight 610 had more than 6,000 flying hours, while the co-pilot had more than 5,000 hours.

Indonesia’s Transport Ministry said the plane took off from Jakarta about 6.20am and crashed just 13 minutes later.

Data from FlightAware showed it had reached an altitude of only 5,200ft.

The transport ministry said crisis centres have been set up Pangkal Pinang’s airport and Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta airport.

The crash is the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea in December 2014, killing all 162 on board.

Indonesian airlines were barred in 2007 from flying to Europe because of safety concerns, though several were allowed to resume services in the following decade.

The ban was completely lifted in June this year. The US lifted a decade-long ban in 2016.

Lion Air, a discount carrier, is one of Indonesia’s youngest and biggest airlines, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations.

In 2013, one of its Boeing 737-800 jets missed the runway while landing on the resort island of Bali, crashing into the sea without causing any fatalities among the 108 people on board.