There are no reports of survivors from a Lion Air passenger plane that has crashed into the ocean off Indonesia, carrying almost 200 people.
Flight JT610 – which had 188 people on board – lost contact 13 minutes after take-off, and witnesses reported seeing it nosedive into the sea.
Debris, including life jackets and body parts, has been found floating in the sea off the north coast of Java, but the estimated 300 people involved in the search are yet to locate the Boeing 737’s fuselage.
Search and rescue divers are in the water looking for more bodies and will be working through the night.
National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) deputy of operations Brigadier General Bambang Suryo Aji said more personnel are coming from other parts of Indonesia to help with the recovery efforts.
He said the exact location of the wreckage wasn’t known.
I predict that there are many passengers still trapped in the plane.”
“I’ve asked for team to continue to work because the depth is only 35m and it’s possible for us to continue to search.”
Indonesia’s disaster agency tweeted photos of a crushed smartphone, books, bags and parts of the aircraft fuselage collected by search and rescue vessels that have converged on the area.
Muhmmad Syaugi, the head of the search and rescue agency, said authorities were “praying” for survivors to be found.
“We don’t know yet whether there are any survivors,” Mr Syaugi told a news conference.
“We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm.”
Those on board the one-hour-and-10-minute flight to Pangkal Pinang, on an island chain off Sumatra, included two babies, a child, two pilots and five flight attendants.
Serpihan pesawat Lion Air JT 610 yang jatuh di perairan Karawang. Beberapa kapal tug boad membantu menangani evakuasi. Video diambil petugas tug boad yang ada di perairan Karawang. pic.twitter.com/4GhKcRYkpG
— Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (@Sutopo_PN) October 29, 2018
It was unclear what caused the crash, although there were heavy monsoonal storms overnight and overcast conditions this morning.
An official of Indonesia’s safety transport committee said he would have to wait until the recovery of the plane’s black box, which contains the cockpit voice recorder and data flight recorder.
“We will collect all data from the control tower,” said Soerjanto Tjahjono.
“The plane is so modern, it transmits data from the plane and that we will review too. But the most important is the black box.”
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation said the plane “asked for a return to base before it finally disappeared from the radar”.
Lion Air said in a statement the plane’s pilot and co-pilot had together amassed 11,000 hours of flying time.
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 was delivered to Lion Air in mid-August and put in use within days, according to aviation website Flightradar24.
‘We hope that our family is still alive’
Families who were waiting for their relatives at Pangkal Pinang began weeping when they were told the plane had crashed.
“Ya Allah (Oh my God),” a woman said while wiping away tears.
The Ministry of Transportation has now opened crisis centres for the families in Jakarta and Pangkal Pinang.
Jatuhnya pesawat Lion Air JT 610 di dekat fasilitas Anak usaha PT Pertamina (Persero), Pertamina Hulu Energi Offshore North West Java (PHE ONWJ) di lepas pantai di utara Bekasi, Jawa Barat. Petugas PHE ONWJ melakukan evakuasi dan mengambil dokumentasi. pic.twitter.com/Xq0kQjAWe8
— Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (@Sutopo_PN) October 29, 2018
Feni, who uses a single name, went to the disaster agency’s headquarters in Jakarta, hoping desperately for news about family members on the flight.
“We are here to find any information about my younger sister, her fiance, her in-law to be and a friend of them,” Feni said.
“We don’t have any information,” she added, as her father wiped tears from reddened eyes.
“No one provided us with any information that we need. We’re confused. We hope that our family is still alive.”
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of the crash and the embassy in Jakarta was making urgent inquiries to determine whether any Australians were affected.
Australian government officials and contractors have been instructed to not fly on Lion Air.
Luggage puts human cost in focus
Many items belonging to passengers were brought back to Jakarta, where they lay piled up on a dockside, a mute testament to the disaster’s human cost.
Shredded and soaking, they included clothing, a purse, many backpacks and other personal effects.
A small pair of children’s shoes could be seen among the wreckage.
All the items, including sections of the plane torn away during crash, were placed on white canvas at the port.
‘We are trying to collect all the information and data’
Preliminary flight tracking data from air tracking service Flightradar24 showed the aircraft climbed to around 5000 feet (1524 metres) before losing and then regaining height, and then finally falling towards the sea.
It was last recorded at 3650 feet (1113 metres) and its speed had risen to 345 knots, according to raw data captured by the website, which could not immediately be confirmed.
Its last recorded position was about 15 kilometres north of the Indonesian coastline, according to a Google Maps reference of the last coordinates reported by Flightradar24, and it crashed in waters 30 to 35 metres deep.
The jet was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, according to Flightradar 24.
Flight JT610 took off around 6.20am and was due to have landed in the capital of the Bangka-Belitung tin mining hub at 7.20am, the tracking service showed.
“We cannot give any comment at this moment,” said Edward Sirait, chief executive of Lion Air Group.
“We are trying to collect all the information and data.”
Lion Air is one of Indonesia’s youngest and biggest airlines, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations.
The low-cost carrier has a mixed safety record. Before Monday’s crash the airline had not reported a fatal accident since 2004, when 25 people died when the DC-9 they were on crashed amid heavy rain at Solo City in central Java.
In 2013, one of its Boeing 737-800 jets missed the runway while landing on the resort island of Bali, crashing into the sea without causing any fatalities among the 108 people on board.
Lion Air announced early this year it was among three major Indonesian airlines that were upgraded to the highest level of safety rating after Indonesia passed a key international audit.
This accident is the first to be reported that involves the popular Boeing 737 MAX, an updated, more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer’s workhorse single-aisle jet.
The first Boeing 737 MAX jets were introduced into service in 2017.
Lion Air’s Malaysian subsidiary, Malindo Air, received the very first global delivery.
Boeing said on Twitter it was “closely monitoring” the situation.
Indonesian airlines were barred in 2007 from flying to Europe because of safety concerns, though several were allowed to resume services in the following decade.
The ban was completely lifted in June this year. The US lifted a decade-long ban in 2016.