Lion Air crash: Tearful relatives of victims demand answers

Lion Air crash: Tearful relatives of victims demand answers
Family members of the passengers aboard the Lion Air flight JT610 are looking for information at the crisis center at the Soekarno Hatta International Airport, on Monday.
PHOTO: The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

JAKARTA - Relatives of the victims of an Indonesian jet that crashed into the sea off Jakarta this week, killing all 189 on board, demanded answers on Monday (Nov 5) as to why the plane had been passed fit to fly and called for no let up in the search for loved ones.

Indonesian authorities on Sunday extended by three days the search for victims and a second black box recorder from wreckage of a nearly new Boeing Co 737 MAX that slammed into the sea a week ago only minutes after it took off from Jakarta.

At a news conference charged with emotion, relatives addressed questions to Indonesian officials including Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi and the head of the country's transportation safety committee (KNKT).

"We are the victims here. Imagine if you were in our position," said Mr Najib Fuquoni, a relative of a victim, demanding an independent investigation into the crash.

Mr Muhammad Bambang Sukandar, the father of another victim, said Lion Air technicians needed to take "full responsibility" if it was proved they had not properly attended to technical issues following the jet's previous flight from Bali to Jakarta.

"This is not an unimportant thing. These are people's lives," he said, as he sought to choke back tears.

Indonesia is one of the world's fastest-growing aviation markets, but its safety record has been patchy. Its transport safety panel investigated 137 serious aviation incidents from 2012 to 2017.

At one stage during Monday's news conference, relatives urged Lion Air founder Rusdi Kirana, who was in the audience, to stand up. He stood up, but did not comment and clasped his hands together as if seeking forgiveness.

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

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    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

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    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.

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    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.

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    Rescue team members arrange the wreckage, showing part of the logo of Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea

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    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.

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    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.

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    A witness in the Karawang district said he had heard an explosion from the beach around the time the aircraft went down.

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    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

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    Gulshan Suneja, father of pilot Bhavye Suneja.

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    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.

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    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.

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    Rescue team members carry a body bag with the remains of a passenger.

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    Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati hugs a relative of a victim of the Lion Air flight JT610 crash.

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    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.

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    There are 189 passengers and crew on board the plane, including two infants, one child, two pilots and six cabin crew.

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    The plane plunged into Karawang Bay, West Java province, Mr Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search and rescue agency, told a press briefing.

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    The waters at the crash site are around 30m to 35m deep.

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    "On the sea surface, we found debris… The location is two nautical miles from where the plane lost contact," he told reporters.

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    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.

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    Officials said the plane had requested a return to base before finally disappearing from the radar.

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    Local TV footage also showed wallets and mobile phones that had been retrieved from the waters.

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    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.

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    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."

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    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.

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The privately owned budget carrier was founded in 1999. Its aircraft have been involved in at least 15 safety incidents and it has been placed under tougher international safety restrictions than other Indonesian airlines.

While victims' relatives are desperate to know what happened, the first crash of a Boeing 737 MAX is also the focus of scrutiny by the global aviation industry.

"As an initial step, we conducted ramp checks for 11 Boeing 737 Max 8," said Transport Minister Budi, adding that authorities were also conducting a special audit to include operating procedures and crew qualifications.

The search effort has involved 151 divers, five helicopters, 61 ships, ranging from fishing boats to ships with advanced sonar scanners, as well as underwater drones.

An Indonesian rescue diver died during the search for a second black box, parts of the plane, and human remains on the muddy seabed.

The head of the KNKT, Mr Surjanto Tjahjono, has said 69 hours of recorded data from 19 flights, including the one that crashed, had been downloaded successfully from a partly damaged flight data recorder recovered on Thursday.

As of Monday, 138 body bags containing human remains had been recovered and handed to police for forensic identification, yet only 14 victims had been identified.

Among the larger parts of the plane found have been a mangled engine and a damaged aircraft wheel.

Mr Surjanto said based on initial analysis, the "engine was running with fairly high speed" when it hit the water.

While there were no signs of an explosion in the air, the plane appeared to have hit the water with huge force, he said.

"When the plane hit the water, the energy released was extraordinarily large."

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