JAKARTA - 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.
Lion Air flight JT-610 took off from Jakarta Airport at 6.20am local time and lost contact with air traffic controllers at 6.33am. The Boeing 737 was originally scheduled to arrive at Pangkal Pinang at 7.10am.
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.
Local TV footage also showed wallets and mobile phones that had been retrieved from the waters.
Officials said the plane had requested a return to base before finally disappearing from the radar.
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.
There are 189 passengers and crew on board the plane, including two infants, one child, two pilots and six cabin crew.
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."
A tugboat notified the Tanjung Priok sea port's Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) that it spotted a plane plunging into the water on Monday morning, according to Jakarta-based Elshinta radio.
In December 2014, Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 carrying 162 people plunged into the Java Sea after taking off from Surabaya to Singapore.
Lion Air, a low-cost airline, has been involved in a number of incidents.
Last year one of its Boeing jets collided with a Wings Air plane as it landed at Kualanamu airport on the island of Sumatra, although no one was injured.
In May 2016, two Lion Air planes collided at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport, while a month earlier a plane operated by Batik Air -- part of the Lion Group -- clipped a TransNusa plane.
In 2013 a Lion Air jet with a rookie pilot at the controls undershot the runway and crashed into the sea in Bali, splitting the plane in two. Several people were injured in the crash, although no one was killed.
Indonesia's air travel industry is booming, with the number of domestic passengers growing significantly over the past decade, but it has acquired a reputation for poor regulation.
Last year the Indonesian air traffic controllers association revealed that the rate of take-off and landings in Jakarta allowed by state-run air navigation company AirNav was more than the airport could handle, increasing the chance of accidents.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.