Indonesian divers find parts of Boeing plane wreckage in Java Sea

USA TODAY Staff And Wire Reports, USA TODAY

Indonesian divers on Sunday located parts of the wreckage of a Boeing 737-500 75 feet down in the Java Sea, a day after the jet with 62 people onboard lost contact with air traffic controllers following takeoff from Indonesia’s capital, officials said.

“We received reports from the diver team that the visibility in the water is good and clear, allowing the discovery of some parts of the plane,” Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said in a statement. “We are sure that is the point where the plane crashed.”

Sriwijaya Air Flight SJ182 took off from Jakarta at about 1:56 p.m. local time and lost contact with the control tower at 2:40 p.m., said the Indonesian Transportation Ministry's Adita Irawati.

The 90-minute flight was to Pontianak, capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo island. Fifty-six passengers and six crew members were on board.

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“We are aware of media reports from Jakarta regarding Sriwijaya Air flight SJ-182,” Boeing said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families. We are in contact with our airline customer and stand ready to support them during this difficult time.”

The jetliner lost more than 10,000 feet in altitude in one minute, four minutes after departure, according to the flight tracking service FlightRadar24.com. The plane's last known altitude was 250 feet; its highest altitude was 10,900 feet, the service reported.

A plane flying from Jakarta to Pontianak would spend most of the flight over the Java Sea.

Fishermen in the area around Thousand Islands, a chain north of Jakarta’s coast, reported hearing an explosion around 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

“We heard something explode. We thought it was a bomb or a tsunami, since after that we saw the big splash from the water,” fisherman Solihin, who goes by one name, told The Associated Press by phone.

“It was raining heavily and the weather was so bad. So it is difficult to see around clearly. But we can see the splash and a big wave after the sounds. We were very shocked and directly saw the plane debris and the fuel around our boat.”

Television footage showed relatives and friends of people aboard the plane weeping, praying and hugging one another as they waited at the airports in Jakarta and Pontianak.

According to the BBC, the Boeing 737 jet is not a Max, the plane involved in deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019 that resulted in the jets being grounded worldwide. The South China Morning Post reported that the Sriwijaya Air plane was about 26 years old.

Sriwijaya Air is one of Indonesia’s discount carriers, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation with a population of more than 260 million, has been plagued by transportation accidents on land, sea and air because of overcrowding on ferries, aging infrastructure and poorly enforced safety standards.

In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. It was the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since 1997, when 234 people were killed on a Garuda flight near Medan on Sumatra island. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.

Searching for Sriwijaya Air flight 182

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said a dozen vessels, including four warships, were searching the waters between Lancang island and Laki island, part of the Thousand Islands chain.

Bambang Suryo Aji, the National Search and Rescue Agency’s deputy head of operations and preparedness, said searchers collected plane debris and clothes found by fishermen. They handed the items over to the National Transportation Safety Committee for further investigation.

Searchers inspect debris found in the waters near where a Sriwijaya Air passenger jet lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly after takeoff.
Searchers inspect debris found in the waters near where a Sriwijaya Air passenger jet lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly after takeoff.

A commander of one of the search ships, who goes by a single name, Eko, said fishermen found cables and pieces of metal in the water.

“The fishermen told us that they found them shortly after they heard an explosion like the sound of thunder,” Eko was quoted by TVOne as saying, adding that aviation fuel was found near where the fishermen found the debris.

Aji said no radio beacon signal had been detected. He said his agency was investigating why the plane's emergency locator transmitter, or ELT, was not transmitting a signal that could confirm whether it had crashed.

“The satellite system owned by neighboring Australia also did not pick up on the ELT signal from the missing plane,” Aji said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Indonesia missing plane: Divers find parts of Boeing plane wreckage