Indonesian officials are “not expecting survivors” from the plane carrying 189 people that crashed into the sea near Jakarta.
Indonesia’s search and rescue agency confirmed the crash of Lion Air flight, JT610, adding that it lost contact with ground officials 13 minutes after takeoff, and a tug boat leaving the capital’s port saw it fall.
After crashing into the sea, the aircraft sank. Rescue officials said they had recovered some human remains from the crash site, about 15 km (9 miles) off the coast.
The airline said the brand-new aircraft, a Boeing 737 MAX 8, 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.
Earlier, agency head Muhmmad Syaugi told a news conference that no distress signal had been received from the aircraft’s emergency transmitter.
However, the pilot had asked to return to base (RTB) after the plane took off and is thought to have been trying to circle back to the capital, Jakarta when it went down.
At the time of the news conference on Monday morning, Syaugi said they didn’t know whether there would be any survivors.
“We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm ... We are there already, our vessels, our helicopter is hovering above the waters, to assist,” Syaugi said. “We are trying to dive down to find the wreck.”
Ambulances were lined up at Karawang, on the coast east of Jakarta and police were preparing rubber dinghies, a Reuters reporter said. It’s now looking likely the ambulances will not be used for survivors.
Distraught friends and relatives prayed and hugged each other as they waited for news of their loved ones at Pangkal Pinang’s airport on Monday.
Others headed to the agency’s headquarters in Jakarta, 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 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.
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.
Crushed smartphone, books, bags and parts of the Lion Air jet’s fuselage have been collected by search and rescue vessels.
At least 23 government officials were on board the plane, which an air navigation spokesman said had sought to turn back just before losing contact.
“We don’t dare to say what the facts are, or are not, yet,” Edward Sirait, the chief executive of Lion Air Group, told Reuters. “We are also confused about the why, since it was a new plane.”
The privately owned airline said in a statement, the aircraft, which had only been in operation since August, was airworthy, with its pilot and co-pilot together having accumulated 11,000 hours of flying time.
The head of Indonesia’s transport safety committee said he could not confirm the cause of the crash, which would have to wait until the recovery of the plane’s black boxes, as the cockpit voice recorder and data flight recorder are known.
“The plane is so modern, it transmits data from the plane, and that we will review too. But the most important is the blackbox,” said Soerjanto Tjahjono.
Safety experts say nearly all accidents are caused by a combination of factors and only rarely have a single identifiable cause.
The weather at the time of the crash was clear, Tjahjono said.
Investigators will focus on the cockpit voice and data recorders and building up a picture of the brand-new plane’s technical status, the condition and training of the crew as well as weather and air traffic recordings.
The effort to find the wreckage and retrieve the black boxes represents a major challenge for investigators in Indonesia, where an AirAsia Airbus jet crashed in the Java Sea in December 2015.
Under international rules, the US National Transportation Safety Board will automatically assist with the inquiry into Monday’s crash, backed up by technical advisers from Boeing and US-French engine maker CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and Safran.