Indonesian passenger plane feared to have crashed with 62 on board

A Sriwijaya Air plane with 62 people on board lost contact after taking off from the Indonesian capital Jakarta on a domestic flight on Saturday, and rescuers said suspicious debris had been found in the sea outside the city.

The Boeing 737-500, en route to Pontianak in western Kalimantan, disappeared from radar screens after taking off shortly after noon. 14.30 (0730 GMT).

Indonesian Transport Minister Budi Karya told a news conference that 62 people had been on board, including 12 crews. Another official had previously said that there were 56 passengers and six crews.

Bagus Puruhito, head of the country’s search and rescue agency Basarnas, said teams had been sent out to search the waters north of Jakarta. No radio beacon had been detected, the agency said.

Agus Haryono, another official at the agency, told Reuters that debris suspected to be from the plane had been found in the sea, but it had not been confirmed that it came from the missing flight.

Reliable tracking service Flightradar24 said in its Twitter feed that Flight SJ182 “lost more than 10,000 feet in less than a minute, about 4 minutes after departing from Jakarta”.

Sriwijaya Air, an Indonesian airline, said in a statement that it was gathering more detailed information about the flight before it could make a more complete statement.

The nearly 27-year-old Boeing 737-500 was much older than Boeing’s 737 MAX problem, one of which crashed out of Jakarta at the end of 2018, killing all 189 people on board the Lion Air aircraft. Older 737 models fly in general and do not have the system involved in the MAX safety crisis.

A Boeing spokeswoman said: “We are aware of media reports from Jakarta and are closely monitoring the situation. We are working to gather more information”.

Indonesian TV channels showed pictures of suspected wrecks.

“We found some cables, a piece of jeans and pieces of metal on the water,” Zulkifli, head of security, told CNNIndonesia.com.

Nurhasan, a fisherman in the area known as the Thousand Islands, told local media that he and his crew had found several pieces of metal.

It was raining at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport when the plane took off for Pontianak, about 740 km away.

Video footage from the airport showed pictures of relatives of the passengers in tears as they waited for news of what had happened.

Search operation

The rescue service Agus said that 50 people participated in the search and that they would search at night.

The Jakarta-based Sriwijaya Air Group was founded in 2003 and flies largely within Indonesia.

The airline has so far had a solid safety record without fatalities on board in four incidents registered in the database for flight safety nets, even though a farmer was killed when a Boeing 737-200 left the runway in 2008 after a hydraulic problem.

The Boeing 737 is the world’s best-selling aircraft family and has undergone several changes since its introduction in 1968.

The Boeing 737-500 operated by Sriwijaya Air disappeared from radar screens shortly after takeoff. © Adek Berry, AFP file photo

The 737-500 is two generations of development ahead of the latest 737 MAX, which has been implicated in a global security crisis following crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. It does not use the software system involved in these crashes.

Nevertheless, experts say that aircraft such as Sriwaya’s leased 737-500 are being phased out for newer fuel-saving models. Civilian jet aircraft usually have an economic life of 25 years, which means that they become too expensive to continue flying beyond that compared to younger models, but they are built to last longer.

(REUTERS)