A search and rescue operation is underway Saturday after a Boeing passenger jet carrying 62 people lost contact with air traffic controllers after taking off from Indonesia’s capital on a domestic flight, officials said.
Sriwijaya Air flight #SJ182, a Boeing 737-500, 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 Indonesian Transportation Ministry spokesperson Adita Irawati.
The plane’s route was estimated to be a 90-minute flight to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo island. There were 56 passengers and six crew members on board.
“The missing plane is currently under investigation and under coordination with the National Search and Rescue Agency and the National Transportation Safety Committee,” Irawati said in a statement.
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Boeing spokeswoman Dana Salloum said the Chicago-based airplane manufacturer is aware of media reports from Jakarta and closely monitoring the situation.
“We are working to gather more information,” she said.
The Boeing 737-500 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 with its highest altitude being 10,900 feet, the service reported.
A plane flying from Jakarta to Pontianak would spend most of the flight over the Java Sea.
Local media outlets said fishermen spotted metal objects believed to be parts of a plane on Saturday afternoon in the Thousand Islands, a chain of islands north of Jakarta. Kompas TV said that a fisherman had seen a fiery explosion.
A man who Reuters identified as a local government official, told CNN Indonesia that he and others had found debris after hearing about two explosions and heading out to search for remnants with an anchor in the water. The man, named Surachman, said they found items like cables, seats, pockets, pieces of hair and jeans.
Television footage showed relatives and friends of people aboard the plane weeping, praying and hugging each other as they waited at the airports in Jakarta and Pontianak.
According to the BBC, the Boeing 737 jet is not a Max, the plane that has been involved in a couple major crashes. The South China Morning Post reported that the missing Sriwijaya Air plane is 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 more than 260 million people, 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 deployed in a search-and-rescue operation centered between Lancang island and Laki island, part of the Thousand Islands chain just north of Jakarta.
Bambang Suryo Aji, the National Search and Rescue Agency’s deputy head of operations and preparedness, said rescuers collected plane debris and clothes that were found by fishermen. They handed the items over to the National Transportation Safety Committee for further investigation to determine whether they were from the missing plane.
A commander of one of the search-and-rescue ships who goes by a single name, Eko, said that 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 in the location where the fishermen found the debris.
Aji said no radio beacon signal had been detected from the 26-year-old plane. 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.
This story is breaking and will be updated.
Contributing: The Associated Press