Indonesia’s Sriwijaya Air lost contact with one of its Boeing 737 passenger planes shortly after take-off from the capital Jakarta, the transport ministry said Saturday.
“A Sriwijaya (Air) plane from Jakarta to Pontianak (on Borneo island) with call sign SJY182 has lost contact,” said ministry spokesman Adita Irawati.
“It last made contact at 2:40 pm (0740 GMT).”
At least 62 passengers and crew were aboard the Boeing 737-500, which has a capacity of about 130, when it took off from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta international airport.
All those on board were Indonesian, Indonesia’s transport safety committee said.
The detik.com website quoted Transport Minister Budi Karya as saying the plane crashed near Laki Island, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the airport.
Rescue agency Basarnas said in a statement it would send a team to the Thousand Islands area to help in the search for victims “after the crash of Sriwijaya Air SJ 182.”
The usual flight time is about 90-minutes. The budget airline said only it was investigating the incident.
Indonesia’s search and rescue agency and the National Transportation Safety Commission were also investigating, Irawati said.
Indonesia’s Navy had pinpointed the site of the missing aircraft and ships had been sent there, a Navy official said. Authorities did not say whether they believed there were survivors.
Indonesian airline Sriwijaya Air’s chief executive, Jefferson Irwin Jauwena, told a news conference that the plane had been in good condition before the flight.
The nearly 27-year-old Boeing 737-500 was much older than Boeing’s problem-plagued 737 MAX model, one of which crashed off Jakarta in late 2018, killing all 189 people aboard the Lion Air flight. Older 737 models are widely flown and do not have the system implicated in the MAX safety crisis.
A Boeing spokeswoman said, “We are aware of media reports from Jakarta, and are closely monitoring the situation. We are working to gather more information,” according to wire reports.
A transport ministry spokeswoman said air traffic control at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport had asked the pilot why the plane was heading northwest instead of on its expected flight path just seconds before it disappeared.
There were no immediate clues on what may have caused the sudden descent and safety experts stress most air accidents are caused by a variety of factors that can take months to establish.
In October 2018, 189 people were killed when a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX jet slammed into the Java Sea about 12 minutes after take-off from Jakarta on a routine one-hour flight.
That crash — and a subsequent fatal flight 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.
In 2007, the European Union banned all Indonesian airlines following a series of crashes and reports of deteriorating oversight and maintenance since deregulation in the late 1990s. The restrictions were fully lifted in 2018.
Between 2007 and 2016, the US Federal Aviation Administration lowered its Indonesia safety evaluation to Category 2, meaning its regulatory system was inadequate.
–AFP and agencies