189 feared dead in 1st ever Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash in Indonesia

189 feared dead in 1st ever Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash in Indonesia
A plane operated by the low-cost Indonesian airline Lion Air crashed while on a domestic flight from Jakarta. It's the first crash ever for Boeing's new 737 MAX 8 model.

"It has been confirmed that it has crashed," Yusuf Latif, a spokesman for the Indonesian rescue agency, said, as cited by Reuters. The plane was on its way from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta to the city of Pangkal Pinang on Sumatra, a flight slightly longer than an hour.

Latif said that the jet lost contact with air traffic control 13 minutes into the flight, and crashed into the sea.

The plane requested an emergency landing almost immediately after it took off, Sindu Rahayu of the Air Transportation Directorate General said at a press conference. He added that the authorities lost contact with the plane after the request.

The plane was packed with 189 passengers and crew, Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency said. At least 23 government officials were on board, Reuters reports.

Flight tracking service Flightradar24 says preliminary flight data shows a drop in the plane's altitude and increase in speed before the transmission was cut. The plane appears to have plunged into the sea just off the coast of Indonesia, data provided by the service shows. It was reportedly at an altitude of 3,650 feet (about 1,112m) when the signal was lost.

The plane was built recently, with about 800 flight hours, the head of Indonesia's national transportation safety committee (KNKT), Dr. Soerjanto Tjahjono, said. Lion Air has confirmed that the plane was airworthy and was piloted by an experienced crew. Its pilot and co-pilot had clocked in 11,000 flight hours together. The common number of flight hours for a pilot in a year is around 1,000.

The authorities will not speculate on the cause of the tragedy until the black box is retrieved and they receive a recording from an air traffic control post, Tjahjono said, as cited by The Strait Times.The newspaper reported that the plane could have carried about 20 Finance Ministry staff.

It is too early to talk about the exact causes of the tragedy, but the photos of the debris appear to show that “it was a pretty high-speed impact,” aviation safety expert Hugh Ritchie told RT. He added that the aircraft model enjoyed a good reputation as “highly reliable,” and “was sought after by most of the carriers globally.”

Debris from the plane, including seats, has been found floating in the Java sea near a facility belonging to state oil firm Pertamina, a company official told Reuters. Sailors on a nearby tugboat were reportedly the first witnesses of the crash.

A search and rescue operation has been launched, with divers sent to search for possible survivors in the submerged wreckage.

A video showing numerous vessels approaching the apparent crash site has been posted. No survivors can be seen in the footage.

The first images purportedly showing debris scattered in the sea have appeared on social media.The agency’s officials say the plane “submerged at a depth of 30 to 35 meters,” adding that the rescuers located the debris about 3.7km south of where contact with the aircraft was lost.

Photos circulating on social media also appear to show passenger belongings and torn pieces of the plane’s fuselage recovered by the rescuers.

The plane had a “technical issue” on a previous flight, which “had been resolved according to procedure,” Edward Sirait, the chief executive of Lion Air Group, said. However, he declined to specify the nature of the problem.

Flight JT610 is operated by a Boeing-737 Max 8, capable of seating up to 210 passengers. It is one of the newest Boeing models, which just entered service in May 2017. Flightradar24 says that the plane was delivered to Lion Air in August.

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