All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were “likely” killed in the accident, the search and rescue agency said on Monday, as it announced it had found human remains.
The Boeing-737 MAX, which went into service just months ago, vanished from radar 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta, plunging into the Java Sea moments after it had asked to be allowed to return to the Indonesian capital. Websites that display flight data showed the plane speeding up as it suddenly lost altitude in the minutes before it disappeared.
“My prediction is that nobody survived because the victims that we found, their bodies were no longer intact and it has been hours so it is likely 189 people have died,” search and rescue agency operational director Bambang Suryo Aji told reporters.
Some 40 divers are part of about 150 personnel at the scene, authorities said, with the plane in water about 30 to 40 metres deep.
Earlier, video footage apparently filmed at the scene of the crash showed a slick of fuel on the surface of the water and pictures showed what appeared to be an emergency slide and bits of wreckage bearing Lion Air’s logo. The carrier acknowledged that the jet had previously been grounded for unspecified repairs.
The plane had been en route to Pangkal Pinang city, a jumping off point for beach-and-sun seeking tourists on nearby Belitung island, when it dropped out of contact around 6.30 am. It was not yet known if there were any foreigners on board. Images filmed at Pangkal Pinang’s main airport showed families of passengers crying and hugging each other, with some yelling “Oh God”.
Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) said there were 178 adult passengers, one child, two infants, two pilots and six cabin crew on board flight JT 610. The transport ministry had initially said there was a total of 188 people on board. The finance ministry said around 20 of its employees were on the plane.
Among them were half a dozen colleagues of Sony Setiawan, who was supposed to be on the flight but missed check in due to bad traffic. “I know my friends were on that flight,” he said.
Setiawan said he was only informed about his lucky escape after he arrived in Pangkal Pinang on another flight at 9.40am. “My family was in shock and my mother cried, but I told them I was safe, so I just have to be grateful.”
Lion Air said the plane had only gone into service in August. The pilot and co-pilot had more than 11,000 hours of flying time between them and had recent medical checkups and drug testing, it added.
Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait said the plane had an unspecified technical issue fixed in Bali before it was flown back to Jakarta. “Engineers in Jakarta received notes and did another repair before it took off” on Monday, Edward Sirait told AFP, calling it “normal procedure”. US-based Boeing said it was deeply saddened by news of the crash.