Authorities locate black boxes, picking up debris after Indonesia’s plane crash

Indonesian authorities on Sunday located the black boxes on the Sriwijaya Air-jet that crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from the capital Jakarta, when body parts and suspicious parts of the plane were retrieved.

The Boeing 737-500 with 62 passengers and crew was on its way to Pontianak in western Kalimantan on Saturday before disappearing from radar screens four minutes after takeoff.

It is the first major air stop in Indonesia since 189 passengers and crew were killed in 2018 when a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max also crashed into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

Even before the latest crash, more people had died in plane crashes in Indonesia than in any other country in the past decade, according to the Aviation Safety Network’s database.

Indonesia’s National Road Safety Committee Chairman Soerjanto Tjahjono said the locations of Flight SJ 182’s two black boxes had been identified.

“Hopefully we can pick them up soon,” said military chief Hadi Tjahjanto without giving an estimated time frame.

Parts of the wreck were taken to Jakarta port by rescuers. Authorities said they came from a depth of 23 meters near a group of islands off the coast of Jakarta.

A twisted piece of metal was painted in the blue and red colors of Sriwijaya Air. Indonesian authorities said they had also retrieved body parts and clothing.

Police asked families to provide information such as dental records and DNA samples to identify bodies.

The aircraft had 12 crews and 50 passengers on board, all Indonesians and including seven children and three children.

President Joko Widodo spoke at Bogor Castle, expressing “deep condolences” over the disaster and urging the public to pray that the missing people could be found.

‘We feel powerless’

The tracking service Flightradar24 said that the aircraft took off at 14.36 local time (0736 GMT) and climbed to reach 10,900 feet within four minutes. It then began a steep descent and stopped transmitting data 21 seconds later.

There were no immediate clues as to what caused the jet’s sudden descent. Most plane crashes are caused by a cocktail of factors that can take months to determine, security experts say.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Transport said that the air traffic control had asked the pilot why the plane was heading northwest instead of on its expected flight path seconds before it disappeared.

The pilots had decades of experience between them with the captain reported to be a former air force pilot and his co-pilot on Sriwijaya Air since 2013, according to his Linkedin profile.

The Sriwijaya Air plane was an almost 27-year-old Boeing 737-500, much older than Boeing’s problematic 737 MAX model. Older 737 models are generally flown and do not have the stable prevention system involved in the MAX safety crisis.

“We are in touch with our airline customer and are ready to support them during this difficult time,” Boeing said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the crew, the passengers and their families.”

Worried relatives waited in Pontianak about 740 km from Jakarta for news of their loved ones. A crisis center for families was set up at Jakarta’s main airport.

“We feel powerless, we can only wait and hope to get some information soon,” Irfansyah Riyanto, who had five relatives on the flight, told reporters.

The Jakarta-based Sriwijaya Air Group was founded in 2003 and flies largely within Indonesia’s vast archipelago. The budget airline has had a solid safety record, with no fatalities on board four incidents registered in the Aviation Safety Network database.

In 2007, the European Union banned all Indonesian airlines after a series of crashes and reports of deteriorating supervision and maintenance since deregulation in the late 1990s. The restrictions were completely lifted in 2018.