JAKARTA – A Sriwijaya Air flight carrying 56 passengers and six crew member is feared to have crashed as it lost contact on Saturday (Jan 9) afternoon after taking off from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.
The SJ-182 flight’s last contact with the aviation tower was at around 1.40pm Jakarta time (2.40pm Singapore time) as the Boeing 737-500 flew en route to Pontianak, West Kalimantan.
Sriwijaya said in a statement that they are “keeping contact with various relevant parties to get more detailed info on SJ-182 flight, Jakarta – Pontianak”.
Carrying 12 crew and 50 passengers, including seven children and three infants, the aircraft lost more than 3,000m in altitude in less than a minute, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24.
All on board were Indonesian nationals.
Several witnesses living on an island near where the plane disappeared described hearing explosions, while others believed they had found objects that were from the plane.
“We heard a big boom around 2pm,” a resident of Lancang island, part of the Thousand Islands district north of Jakarta, told Jakarta-based Elshinta radio.
“We all first thought it was a lightning sound because rain was pouring,” the radio cited a resident identified as Mr Naki.
Mr Mustakin, another resident of the Thousand Islands district, told Elshinta radio he heard two to explosions.
Indonesia’s search and rescue agency Basarnas said at a press briefing last night that the focus of Sunday (Jan 10) morning’s search is between Laki island and Lancang island, about 11 nautical miles from where the plane took off.
“Our personnel have reached the coordinates where the plane crashed,” National Transportation Safety Committee head Soerjanto Tjahjono said. “We will do a survey to determine (what) the condition at the location is. We will deploy… underwater recovery equipment.”
Basarnas deputy chief, Major-General Bambang Suyo Aji, said: “Search operations will continue 24 hours a day, focusing on the area where debris probably belonging to the plane was found.”
Basarnas has not received a distress signal transmitted from the plane’s emergency locator transmitter.
Transport Ministry spokesman Adita Irawati said the plane had deviated from its normal course and gone in a north-west direction.
Seconds after air traffic controllers asked the pilots about the reason for the deviation, the plane disappeared from the radar.
Sriwijaya Air chief executive Jefferson Irwin Jauwena told reporters that the flight was delayed due to heavy rain. The plane was supposed to take off about an hour earlier.
According to its registration details, the plane is a 26-year-old Boeing 737-500 that first flew in 1994.
Sriwijaya Air, a private budget airline which flies to Indonesian destinations and to China, Malaysia and Timor-Leste, was established in 2003. Eighteen out of 30 Sriwijaya Air planes were grounded by the Transport Ministry in September 2019 over airworthiness concerns.
Indonesia’s aviation sector has long suffered from a patchy air safety record, and its airlines were once banned from entering US and European airspace.
On Saturday, distraught relatives waited in Pontianak.
Mr Yaman Zai, a father of three children who were aboard the plane with their mother, told Reuters that he was at the airport in Pontianak waiting for them when he heard the news.
“I will never meet her again,” he said, holding a photo of his oldest daughter.
The plane is a Boeing 737-500 series. It is not a 737 Max, the Boeing model involved in two major crashes in recent years.
The aircraft had lost more than 3,000m in altitude in less than a minute, according to Flight tracking website Flightradar24.com.
Among the 56 passengers were seven children and three infants. There were two pilots and four cabin crew on board.
Unverified images of small debris fished from the water were posted on social media.
Indonesian authorities said they have sent a search vessel from Jakarta to plane’s last known location in the Java Sea. First responders were also deployed to the site to aid potential survivors, local TV reported.
By : Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja – THE STRAITS TIMES