Rescuers in inflatable boats retrieved human remains, pieces of aircraft and personal belongings from the Java Sea yesterday after a new-generation Boeing jet operated by an Indonesian budget airline crashed minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people on board.
More than 300 people including soldiers, police and fishermen were involved in the grim search, retrieving aircraft debris and personal items such as a crumpled cellphone, ID cards and carry-on bags from the seas northeast of Jakarta.
President Joko Widodo ordered an investigation and urged Indonesians to “keep on praying.” The crash of the Boeing 737 Max 8 is the latest in a series of tragedies that have struck Indonesia this year, including earthquakes and a tsunami that killed several thousand people.
Distraught family members struggled to comprehend the sudden loss of loved ones in the crash of the 2-month-old Lion Air plane with experienced pilots in fine weather. They gathered at crisis centers set up by the authorities at airports, hoping desperately for a miracle.
But a top search official, citing the condition of the remains recovered, said no survivors are expected. The disaster is a setback for Indonesia’s airline industry, which just emerged from decadelong bans by the European Union and the United States over safety concerns.
The Transport Ministry said the plane took off from Jakarta at about 6:20 a.m. and crashed just 13 minutes later. Data from FlightAware showed it had reached an altitude of only 5,200 feet (1,580 meters). Boeing Co. said it was “deeply saddened” by the crash and was prepared to provide technical assistance to Indonesia’s crash probe. The 737 Max 8 was leased from China Minsheng
Investment Group Leasing Holdings Ltd., according to the official China News Service.
An air transport official, Novie Riyanto, said the flight was cleared to return to Jakarta after the pilot made a “return to base” request two to three minutes after taking off. It plunged into the sea about 10 minutes later. Weather conditions were normal but the plane, which Lion Air received in August, had experienced an unspecified technical issue on its previous flight.
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Relatives and friends wept, prayed and hugged each other as they waited at Jakarta’s airport and at Pangkal Pinang’s airport on Bangka island off Sumatra where the flight was headed. Some including Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani headed to the search and rescue agency’s headquarters in Jakarta for information. About 20 ministry staff were on the flight.