Lion Air crash: Indonesia sifts through plane debris, orders jet inspection

PHOTO: Reuters

Indonesia ordered the inspection of all Boeing 737-MAX airliners on Tuesday as rescue teams recovered more victims from a brand new Lion Air jet that plunged into the sea with 189 people on board.

On a Jakarta dockside, officials took up the grim task of separating human remains from plane debris and recovered personal effects, sending the body parts -- including from an infant -- to hospital for DNA testing.

Stretched out along the dock was a growing collection of items plucked from the sea -- single shoes, torn pieces of clothing, wallets and bags scattered among aircraft seats stripped of their blue covers by the sheer impact of the crash.

The Boeing-737 MAX, which went into service just a few months ago, crashed into the Java Sea off Indonesia's northern coast moments after it had asked to return to Jakarta on Monday.

Flight JT610 sped up as it suddenly lost altitude and then vanished from radar 12 minutes after take-off, with witnesses saying the single-aisle jet plunged into the water.

The accident has resurrected concerns about Indonesia's patchy air safety record which led to a now-lifted ban on its planes entering US and European airspace.

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.

On Tuesday Indonesia's transport minister ordered an inspection of all 737-MAX aircraft but he stopped short of grounding the new models.

Dozens of divers were taking part in the recovery effort along with helicopters and ships.

Authorities are trying to pinpoint the smashed jet's location and flight data recorders expected to be crucial to the crash investigation.

GRIEVING RELATIVES

Scores of relatives thronged a hospital building being used for victim identification.

"My daughter has no husband, my grandchild no longer has a father," a grieving Hari Setiyono said at the police hospital, referring to his missing son-in-law.

Febby Mellysa had four relatives aboard the doomed jet, including her cousin, his wife and their five-year-old son.

"We tried to call my cousin and his wife so many times, but their phone wasn't active," she told AFP.

"The whole family is confused about what to do next."

Indonesia's search and rescue agency said it was prioritising finding the main wreckage using sonar metal detectors, and all but ruled out finding any survivors from the high-impact crash in water some 30-40 metres deep.

The plane was 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 (2330 GMT).

The pilot and co-pilot had more than 11,000 hours flying time between them and had undergone recent medical checkups and drug testing, the carrier said.

Aviation experts said it was too early to determine what caused the accident.

But investigators would look at everything from catastrophic mechanical failure and pilot error to weather conditions or unusual cockpit activity that could point to a hijacking or pilot suicide, they said.

"Locating the so-called black boxes is most important now," said Terence Fan, an aviation expert at the Singapore Management University. "That should show how the aircraft and pilots actually behaved."

On Monday, Lion Air acknowledged the plane had an unspecified technical issue fixed in Bali before it was flown back to Jakarta, calling it "normal procedure".

Data from that flight suggested the plane may have flown erratically and a technical log circulating on social media pointed to different speed and altitude readings on the captain and first officer's instruments.

'CRITICAL SYSTEM'

Lion maintenance staff would have consulted Boeing on how to fix any problem with the new jet's pitot-static system, which determines speed and altitude among other measurements, said Stephen Wright, an aviation expert at the University of Leeds.

"It's a critical system -- you don't muck about with it... There are fixed procedures," he told AFP.

On its last flight, the jet was travelling at a much faster speed than would be expected, but the pilot did not declare an emergency or attempt a water landing.

"That might mean the plane was out of control," said aviation analyst Dudi Sudibyo.

Boeing suspended release of the fuel-efficient 737 MAX just days before its first commercial delivery last year due to an issue with engines.

Lion Air, Indonesia's biggest budget airline which has been engaged in huge expansion, announced earlier this year it was buying 50 Boeing 737-MAX 10 jets for $6.24 billion.

It currently has 10 737-MAXs in its fleet while national carrier Garuda has one.

In 2014, an AirAsia crash in the Java Sea during stormy weather killed 162 people.

Lion has been involved in a number of incidents including a fatal 2004 crash and a collision between two Lion Air planes at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport.

A string of fake news stories have been circulating about the crash, including one that falsely claims to show a baby who survived.