Lion Air crash: Even the strongest body part of plane broke apart, says Indonesian official

PHOTO: Reuters

JAKARTA - Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) said on Monday (Nov 5) that the Lion Air jetliner that plunged into Java Sea last Monday (Oct 29) suffered a more devastating crash impact than an AirAsia flight that crashed into the sea in December 2014.

All 189 passengers on board Lion Air flight JT610 are feared dead after the plane crash 13 minutes after take-off from Jakarta. The plane was bound for Pangkal Pinang.

It was Indonesia's worst aviation disaster since a Garuda Indonesia plane crashed in Medan in 1997, killing all 214 people on board.

The size of the debris collected so far showed the ill-fated Lion Air dived into the water at high speed and the plane broke in pieces upon impact with the water body, Mr Soerjanto Tjahjono, chief of Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT), told a radio station.

His comments on Monday (Nov 5) effectively ruled out earlier predictions by some quarters that the plane might have broken apart in mid-air.

"The plane broke apart upon impact when it hit the water. There has been no signs of material fatigue. There were worries by some that the plane broke apart in mid-air, due to material fatigue. We can confirm it is not the case," he told Elshinta radio.

"Lion Air crash is more devastating than Air Asia's. Lion Air crash produced smaller debris size. Lion Air fell hard into the sea at high speed, while Air Asia (plane) stalled and glided into the sea," he said, referring to AirAsia flight QZ8501 which crashed into Java Sea off Borneo 40 minutes after take-off from Surabaya. There were 162 people on board the Singapore-bound flight.

"At impact, in the Lion Air case, the engine was running at high speed."

Lion Air plane carrying 189 people crashes into sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta

  • Chief of Indonesia's Lion Air flight JT610 search and rescue operations Muhammad Syaugi looks through recovered belongings believed to be from the crashed flight at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta
  • A pair of infant shoes is pictured among recovered belongings believed to be from the crashed Lion Air flight JT610 at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta.
  • There were 189 people on board flight JT610 of budget airline Lion Air when ground staff lost contact with the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft early on Monday, 13 minutes after it had left the airport in Jakarta, the capital.
  • Rescue team members arrange the wreckage, showing part of the logo of Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea
  • A crying mother shows a graduation picture of her son, Agil Nugroho Septian, who was a passenger on Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea, at her house in Tegal, Indonesia, October 29, 2018.
  • Lutfiani shows an undated picture of her husband, Deryl Fida Febrianto, a passenger on Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea, at her house in Surabaya, Indonesia, October 29, 2018.
  • A witness in the Karawang district said he had heard an explosion from the beach around the time the aircraft went down.
  • Sangeeta Suneja, mother of Bhavye Suneja, a pilot of Lion Air flight JT610 which crashed into the sea, reacts as she leaves for Jakarta, in New Delhi
  • Gulshan Suneja, father of pilot Bhavye Suneja.
  • Sony Setiawan (C) speaks to journalists at Pangkal Pinang airport in Bangka Belitung province on October 29, 2018, following his arrival on another airline after missing his pre-planned flight on Lion Air flight JT 610 which crashed off the coast north of Jakarta. - Setiawan was due to board the ill-fated Boeing-737 MAX but was held up on his commute to Soekarno-Hatta airport by Jakarta’s notorious traffic congestion.
  • A forensics team carries bodies of the victims of Lion Air flight JT610 to Sukanto National Police Hospital, East Jakarta, on Monday. In a statement, Lion Air said human remains had been collected in 24 body bags after sweeps of the crash site, which is about 15 km (nine miles) off the coast to the northeast of Jakarta.
  • Rescue team members carry a body bag with the remains of a passenger.
  • Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati hugs a relative of a victim of the Lion Air flight JT610 crash.
  • The Indonesian authorities have mounted a search and rescue operation for a Lion Air plane which crashed into the sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta on Monday (Oct 29) morning.
  • There are 189 passengers and crew on board the plane, including two infants, one child, two pilots and six cabin crew.
  • The plane plunged into Karawang Bay, West Java province, Mr Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search and rescue agency, told a press briefing.
  • The waters at the crash site are around 30m to 35m deep.
  • "On the sea surface, we found debris… The location is two nautical miles from where the plane lost contact," he told reporters.
  • The crash site is near a facility of state-owned oil company Pertamina in West Java province. A video taken from a Pertamina vessel near the crash site showed oil patches on the water surface.
  • Officials said the plane had requested a return to base before finally disappearing from the radar.
  • Local TV footage also showed wallets and mobile phones that had been retrieved from the waters.
  • The head of Indonesia's national transportation safety committee (KNKT) Dr Soerjanto Tjahjono told reporters that the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane that crashed entered service in August this year and had clocked only about 800 flight hours.
  • When asked on the cause of the crash, Dr Soerjanto said: "We can't presume anything before finding the blackbox and also the recording from the (air traffic control) tower."
  • An Indonedian boatman takes pictures as debris from the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in the waters north of Karawang, West Java province.

Some experts have said the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane nosed downward so abruptly that it may have hit speeds of 1,000kmh or more before slamming into the sea last Monday.

The search team have recovered a flight data recorder, both the engines, a part of the landing gear, body parts of victims and personal belongings in a week-long search which was extended for three more days on Sunday.

In comments that highlighted the challenges ahead as divers continued on Monday (Nov 5) to search for the main wreckage and cockpit voice recorder, Mr Soerjanto said the chances of finding Lion Air plane's fuselage in one good piece are not high as even its strongest body part was torn apart in the crash.

The KNKT chief said last week that a preliminary report of the investigations into one of the country's worst aviation disasters will be released in about a month while a complete study may take up to six months.

So far 138 body bags containing human remains have been recovered. Fourteen victims have been identified by DNA tests and their personal belongings.

"Today, we will do identification process on more than 30 body bags. Methods used are fingerprints, matching dental records, DNA, as well as matching personal belongings," Colonel Lisda Cancer, head of Indonesian national police DVI (Disaster Victim Identification) department, told Elshinta radio.

The Indonesian Transport Ministry said in a statement the authorities are also conducting a "special audit" of the standard operating procedures of the budget airline, the flight crew qualifications and coordination with industry stakeholders.

The government had already ordered a review of Lion Air's repair and maintenance unit and suspended several managers as it emerged the ill-fated jet had reported some technical issues on a flight from Bali to Jakarta a day before last Monday's (Oct 29) the crash.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.