Indonesia: Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737 with 62 on board feared to have crashed into sea


A Sriwijaya Air passenger jet carrying 62 people lost contact with air traffic controllers on Saturday, minutes after taking off from Indonesia’s capital on a domestic flight.

Debris found by fishermen was being examined to see if it was from the missing plane, officials said.

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2.36 pm local time (7.36 am CET).

The Boeing 737-500 disappeared from radars four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 8,839 meters, he said.

Flight tracker website FlightRadar24 showed SJ182 losing more than 3km of altitude in under a minute.

The airline said in a statement that the plane was on an estimated 90-minute flight from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo island.

The plane was carrying 50 passengers and 12 crew members, all Indonesian nationals, including six extra crew for another trip.

A dozen vessels, including four warships, were deployed in a search and rescue operation centred between Lancang island and Laki island, part of the Thousand Islands chain just north of Jakarta, Sumadi said.

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 fishermen. They handed the items over to the National Transportation Safety Committee for further investigation to determine whether they were from the missing plane.

A commander of one of the search-and-rescue ships who goes by a single name, Eko, said that fishermen found cables and pieces of metal in the water.

‘Sound of thunder’

“The fishermen told us that they found them shortly after they heard an explosion like the sound of thunder,” Eko was quoted by TVOne as saying, adding that aviation fuel was found in the location where the fishermen found the debris.

Aji said no radio beacon signal had been detected from the 26-year-old plane. He said his agency was investigating why the plane’s emergency locator transmitter, or ELT, was not transmitting a signal that could confirm whether it had crashed.

“The satellite system owned by neighboring Australia also did not pick up on the ELT signal from the missing plane,” Aji said.

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

Sriwijaya Air President Director Jefferson Irwin Jauwena said the plane was airworthy. He told reporters 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.

It was raining at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport when the plane took off for Pontianak, around 740 kilometres (460 miles) away.

Television footage showed relatives and friends of people aboard the plane weeping, praying and hugging each other as they waited at airports in Jakarta and Pontianak.

Chicago-based Boeing said on its Twitter feed that it was aware of the incident. It said it was closely monitoring the situation and “working to gather more information.”

The twin-engine, single aisle Boeing 737 is one of the world’s most popular planes for short and medium-haul flights. The 737-500 is a shorter version of the widely used 737 model. Airlines began using this type of plane in the 1990s, with production ending two decades ago.

Good safety record

Discount carrier Sriwijaya began operations in 2003 and flies to more than 50 destinations in Indonesia and a handful of nearby countries. Its fleet includes a variety of 737 variants as well as the regional ATR 72 twin-engine turboprop plane.

The airline has had a solid safety record until now, with no onboard casualties in four incidents recorded on the Aviation Safety Network database, though a farmer was killed when a Boeing 737-200 left the runway in 2008 following a hydraulic problem.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, with more than 260 million people, has been plagued by transportation accidents on land, sea, and air because of overcrowding on ferries, ageing infrastructure, and poorly enforced safety standards.

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. It was the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since 1997 when 234 people were killed on a Garuda flight near Medan on Sumatra island. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.

Indonesian airlines were previously banned from flying to the United States and European Union for not meeting international safety standards. Both have since lifted the ban, citing improvement in aviation safety and greater compliance with international standards.

Read the full article at: euronews.com