A Lion Air flight with at least 188 people on board is believed to have sunk after crashing into the sea off Indonesia’s island of Java on Monday, shortly after take off from the capital on its way to the country’s tin-mining hub, officials said.
A spokesman for Indonesia’s search and rescue agency said the Lion Air flight, JT610, lost contact 13 minutes after takeoff, adding that a tug boat leaving the capital’s port had seen the craft falling.
“It has been confirmed that it has crashed,” the spokesman, Yusuf Latif, said by text message, when asked about the fate of the Lion Air plane, which air tracking service Flightradar 24 identified as a Boeing 737 MAX 8.
Indonesia’s disaster agency posted photos online of a crushed smartphone, books, bags and parts of the aircraft fuselage that had been collected by search and rescue vessels that have converged on the area.
Spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the aircraft, on a 1 hour and 10 minute flight to Pangkal Pinang on an island chain off Sumatra, was carrying 181 passengers, including one child and two babies, and seven crew members.
Wreckage had been found near where the Lion Air plane lost contact with air traffic officials on the ground, said Muhmmad Syaugi, the head of the search and rescue agency.
“We don’t know yet whether there are any survivors,” Syaugi told a news conference. “We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm.”
Flight JT610 took off around 6.20 a.m. and was due to have landed in the capital of the Bangka-Belitung tin mining region at 7.20 a.m., the Flightradar 24 website showed.
“We cannot give any comment at this moment,” Edward Sirait, chief executive of Lion Air Group, told Reuters, adding that a news conference was planned for later on Monday. “We are trying to collect all the information and data.”
Preliminary flight tracking data from Flightradar24 shows the aircraft climbed to around 5,000 feet (1,524 m) before losing, and then regaining, height, before finally falling towards the sea.
It was last recorded at 3,650 feet (1,113 m) and its speed had risen to 345 knots, according to raw data captured by the respected tracking website, which could not immediately be confirmed.
Its last recorded position was about 15 km (9 miles) north of the Indonesian coastline, according to a Google Maps reference of the last coordinates reported by Flightradar24.
Boeing is aware of the airplane accident reports and is “closely monitoring” the situation, it said on social network Twitter.
The accident is the first to be reported that involves the widely-sold 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.
Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, but its safety record is patchy.
Founded in 1999, Lion Air’s only fatal accident to date was in 2004, when an MD-82 crashed upon landing at Solo City, killing 25 of the 163 people on board, the Flight Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety Network says.
However, six other Lion Air jets, including one that crash-landed in the water short of the runway at the Indonesian resort island of Bali in 2013, were damaged beyond repair in various accidents, according to Aviation Safety Network.
Lion Air was removed from the European Union’s air safety blacklist in June 2016.
The privately owned airline in April announced a firm order to buy 50 Boeing 737 MAX 10 narrowbody jets with a list price of $6.24 billion. It is one of the U.S. planemaker’s largest customers globally.
The last major accident in Indonesia was in December 2014 when AirAsia Indonesia’s Airbus A320 aircraft crashed into the waters after taking off from Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board.