Indonesian Plane Crash: What We Know

This file photo taken over Tangerang on March 18, 2013 shows a Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-300 aircraft, a similar model to the Indonesian airline's Boeing 737-500 operating as flight SJY182 that lost contact during a flight from Jakarta to Pontianak on January 9, 2021. Adek BERRY / AFP
This file photo taken over Tangerang on March 18, 2013 shows a Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-300 aircraft, a similar model to the Indonesian airline’s Boeing 737-500 operating as flight SJY182 that lost contact during a flight from Jakarta to Pontianak on January 9, 2021. Adek BERRY / AFP

 

A Boeing passenger jet carrying 62 people crashed into the sea minutes after taking off from the Indonesian capital Jakarta at the weekend.

Here’s what we know about the disaster so far:

– What happened? –

The Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500 was en route Saturday from Jakarta to Pontianak city on Borneo island, normally a 90-minute flight, but deviated sharply from its course shortly after take-off and went into a steep dive, according to flight-tracking data and aviation analysts.

Warships, helicopters and divers were deployed in the sea off the mega-city and discovered body parts, wreckage and passenger clothing.

Divers are also looking for the plane’s black boxes — cockpit voice and flight data recorders — after the authorities said on Sunday they have managed to pinpoint their location.

It is not clear what caused Flight SJ182 to go down near a small archipelago off Jakarta, but analysts have cited such factors as bad weather, pilot error and mechanical malfunction.

A fisherman from Lancang Island, part of the archipelago, told CNN’s local affiliate that he heard a noise like an explosion or thunder around the time of the accident. He then saw big waves.

Preliminary data suggested it was “most likely” that the plane was intact when it hit the water, according to a senior Indonesian transport safety agency investigator.

– Who was on board? –

The plane was carrying 50 passengers, including 10 children, and 12 crew members.

The captain was Afwan, a 54-year-old veteran aviator who flew for the Indonesian Air Force from 1987 to 1998, according to local media.

Married with three children, he was known as a devout Muslim and well-respected figure in his local community.

The profile of one of his social media accounts was reported to be a picture of Superman praying alongside the words: “no matter how high you fly, you won’t reach heaven if you don’t pray five times a day”.

Among the passengers were newlyweds Putri Wahyuni and Ihsan Adhlan Hakim, en route to their wedding celebration.

Rapin Akbar spoke to AFP after giving blood for DNA analysis at a hospital where body bags with human remains were being taken. He said he had five relatives on board, including an older sister, a nephew and his wife and their seven-month-old baby.

– What kind of plane was it? –

It was part of the Boeing 737 Classic series, a popular workhorse aircraft that entered service in 1990. The model used by Sriwijaya Air was configured to carry a maximum of 120 passengers, according to the carrier’s website.

The jet was 26 years old and had previously been flown by US-based Continental Airlines and United Airlines.

“This (plane) is considered an ageing aircraft and has special added inspections to perform by the airlines to ensure airworthiness,” said Michael Daniel, a retired US Federal Aviation Administration officer who is now an international aviation consultant.

It was not a variant of Boeing’s newer MAX series, which was grounded worldwide after two deadly crashes six months apart, in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

– Does Indonesia have a poor aviation safety record? –

In short, yes. The number of people flying in the world’s biggest archipelagic nation of over 17,000 islands has skyrocketed but safety standards have failed to keep pace.

The most serious crash in recent years was the Lion Air Boeing 737 Max accident in 2018, which claimed 189 lives, although that was blamed on the aircraft’s faulty anti-stall system.

Others include the 2014 crash of an AirAsia jet with the loss of 162 lives and a year later, the crash of a military plane shortly after take-off, killing 140 people.

But Sriwijaya Air had not previously recorded a fatal crash since starting operations in 2003.

More minor accidents also occur frequently in a country where conditions for pilots can be challenging, ranging from poorly-maintained runways to mountainous terrain and sudden tropical downpours.

One of the more unusual air accidents in Indonesia happened in 2013 when a passenger jet crashed into a cow and skidded off the runway as it came into land at a small airport on Sulawesi island.

The only casualty was the cow, crushed to death under the Lion Air plane’s wheels.

Indonesia Says Black Box Recorders From Crashed Plane Located

Navy sailors recover a piece of wreckage (bottom C, in red) during recovery operations near Lancang Island on January 10, 2021, following the January 9 crash of Sriwijaya Air flight SJ182 into the Java Sea following takeoff. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP)

 

Authorities have pinpointed the location of two black boxes from a crashed Indonesian jet, they said Sunday, referring to cockpit voice and flight data recorders that could help explain why the aircraft went down with 62 people aboard.

The announcement came as divers pulled body parts, wreckage and clothing from waters off Indonesia’s capital Jakarta.

“We have located the position of the black boxes, both of them,” said Soerjanto Tjahjanto, head of Indonesia’s transport safety agency.

“Divers will start looking for them now and hopefully it won’t be long before we get them.”

The Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500 went into a steep dive about four minutes after it left Soekarno-Hatta international airport in Jakarta on Saturday afternoon.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo expressed his “deep condolences”, and called on citizens to “pray together so that victims can be found”.

But the frantic search involving helicopters and a flotilla of warships appeared to offer no hope of finding any survivors.

The search and rescue agency said it had so far collected five body bags with human remains as well as debris from the crash site in the Java Sea.

A piece of child’s clothing, a broken tyre and wheel, life jackets and wreckage from the plane’s body were found, according to authorities and AFP reporters on the scene.

Among the passengers was Beben Sofian, 59, and her husband Dan Razanah, 58.

“They took a selfie and sent it to their kids before taking off,” the couple’s nephew Hendra told AFP.

All 62 people on board, passengers and crew, were Indonesian, authorities said. The count included 10 children.

– ‘Torn into pieces’ –

Distraught relatives waited nervously for news at the airport in Pontianak, the city on Indonesia’s section of Borneo island which had been flight SJ182’s destination, about 90 minutes flying time over the Java Sea.

“I have four family members on the flight — my wife and three children,” Yaman Zai said on Saturday evening as he sobbed.

“(My wife) sent me a picture of the baby today… How could my heart not be torn into pieces?”

Data from FlightRadar24 indicated that the airliner reached an altitude of nearly 11,000 feet (3,350 metres) before dropping suddenly to 250 feet. It then lost contact with air traffic control.

The transport minister said Saturday that the jet appeared to deviate from its intended course just before it disappeared from radar.

Poor weather, pilot error or a technical problem with the plane were potential factors, said Jakarta-based aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman.

“But it’s way too early to conclude anything,” he added.

“After the black box is found we can start putting the puzzle together.”

Sriwijaya Air, which operates flights to destinations in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, has said only that it was investigating the loss of contact.

It did not immediately comment when contacted by AFP again on Sunday.

– Reputation for poor safety –

In October 2018, 189 people were killed when a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX jet crashed near Jakarta.

That crash — and another in Ethiopia — saw Boeing hit with $2.5 billion in fines over claims it defrauded regulators overseeing the 737 MAX model, which was grounded worldwide following the two deadly crashes.

The 26-year-old 737 that went down Saturday was not a MAX variant.

“Our thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families,” Boeing said in a statement, adding that it was in contact with the airline.

Indonesia’s aviation sector has long had a reputation for poor safety, and its airlines were once banned from entering US and European airspace.

In 2014, an AirAsia plane headed from Surabaya to Singapore crashed with the loss of 162 lives.

Domestic investigators’ final report on that crash said major factors included a chronically faulty component in a rudder control system, poor maintenance, and the pilots’ inadequate response.

A year later, in 2015, more than 140 people, including scores on the ground, were killed when a military plane crashed shortly after take-off in Medan on Sumatra island.