In what is believed to be the worst plane crash in three years, a Boeing 737 Max jet operated by Indonesia’s troubled Lion Air carrier plunged into the Java Sea with 189 people on board just minutes after takeoff on Monday. The domestic flight was flying from the city of Jakarta and flying to the mining town of Pangkal Pinang off the island of Sumatra when air traffic controllers lost contact shortly after 6:30 am local time, when the plane was flying at a relatively low altitude of 2,500 meters. Indonesian search and rescue found debris, possessions belonging to the 189 passengers and crew as well as body parts strewn about the crash site, but that all those aboard are "likely" dead.
The pilot reportedly asked to return to the airport, and was cleared, minutes after contact was lost.
Rescuer workers have started the process of pulling bodies from the water.
Notably, the crash is the first involving the widely sold Boeing 737 MAX, the more fuel-efficient iteration of the manufacturer's workhorse single-aisle jet. Lion Air's Malaysian subsidiary, Malindo Air, received the first delivery of the jets last year following a $21 billion deal signed in 2011. The airline was also the first to put the model into service, per Reuters.
In a Monday statement, Boeing said it "stands ready to provide technical assistance to the accident investigation." A haunting video taken aboard one of the rescue vessels showing an oil slick peppered with debris has surfaced on social media.
Serpihan pesawat Lion Air JT 610 yang jatuh di perairan Karawang. Beberapa kapal tug boad membantu menangani evakuasi. Video diambil petugas tug boad yang ada di perairan Karawang. pic.twitter.com/4GhKcRYkpG— Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (@Sutopo_PN) October 29, 2018
One twitter user tweeted a photo of the 31-year-old pilot, Bhavye Suneja, an Indian national who had more than 6,000 flight hours, who presumably died during the crash.
Established in 1999, Lion Air Group operates domestic flights as well as a number of international routes connecting Southeast Asia, Australia and the Middle East. Its founder, Rusdi Kirana, is the incumbent Indonesian ambassador to Malaysia. However, the airline is no stranger to safety scandals, and was briefly barred from flying in Europe after several of its pilots were found to possess methamphetamine back in 2013. If all aboard have indeed died, the crash would be the country’s second-deadliest air disaster since 1997. Though Indonesia is one of the world's fastest growing air markets.
Here are the key takeaways from the traffic incident (courtesy of Bloomberg):
- A Lion Air jet crashed in Indonesia while flying from Jakarta to Pangkalpinang
- The jet, which entered service for Lion Air on Aug. 15, had about 189 people on board; search for survivors, debris continue
- Rescue agency expects no survivors from crashed jet
- The aircraft involved was a Boeing 737 Max 8 and this is the first ever accident for the model
- Lion Air sees no reason to ground Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet
- The plane was serving the Bali-Jakarta route on Sunday evening and pilots for that flight reported a technical glitch; the aircraft was cleared by engineers prior to Monday's ill-fated journey, according to Lion Air's Edward Sirait
- The crashed plane has served local and international trips, including to Jeddah and China, Sirait says
- The jet lost contact at 6:33 a.m. local time and crashed in the Java Sea, 15 miles off Jakarta airport, according to Bangka rescue agency
- Australia banned government officials and contractors from flying Lion Air
- Lion Air is the largest privately-owned Indonesian airline and among the major customers for Boeing and Airbus in Asia
- The last major accident in Indonesia was in December 2014, when an AirAsia Indonesia Airbus A320 crashed after taking off from Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board