A Sriwijaya Air plane crashed shortly after taking off from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on Saturday, killing 62 people.
The Boeing 737-500 jet disappeared during heavy rain and investigators combing the sea have so far found plane parts and human remains but no sign of survivors.
The crash has refocused attention on the country’s air safety record, coming just over two years after another crash involving a Boeing 737 Max aircraft.
Sriwijaya Air flight SJ182 departed from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo island, on Saturday at 2.36 pm local time (10.36 am EAT).
The weather forecast provided to the crew showed light rain and storm clouds in the vicinity of the airport, and Indonesia’s transportation minister, Budi Karya Sumadi, said the take-off was delayed by an hour, reportedly due to bad weather.
The last tracking signal from the aircraft was received by flight monitoring service Flightradar24 four minutes later.
The jet climbed to a maximum altitude of 10,900 feet before beginning a steep descent, with the last received data from the aircraft at 250 feet.
Fishermen in the area between Lancang and Laki islands, part of an archipelago around Thousand Islands north of Jakarta’s coast, reported hearing an explosion at about 2.30 pm on Saturday.
“We heard something explode – we thought it was a bomb or a tsunami since after that we saw a big splash from the water,” said one.
“It was raining heavily and the weather was so bad, so it was difficult to see around clearly, but we saw the splash and a big wave after the loud sound. We were very shocked and saw the plane debris and the fuel around our boat.”
There were 62 people on board, all of them Indonesian nationals, including three babies and seven other children. The plane was carrying 50 passengers, six working crew members, and six other crew for another flight.
What plane was involved?
Sriwijaya Air took delivery of the Boeing 737-500 – registration PK-CLC – in 2012. It was delivered new to Continental Airlines in 1994 and was later operated by United Airlines before the Indonesian carrier bought it nine years ago.
The plane in question had flown four sectors on the morning of the crash, including a return flight from Jakarta to Pontianak and another from the Indonesian capital to Pangkal Pinang and back.
Crucially, while it was a Boeing 737 it was not the MAX variant involved in two plane crashes at the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
How will investigators try to determine what went wrong?
Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency said the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder – the so-called black boxes – had been detected by a navy ship’s sonar system.
These could give clues about the moments before the crash, including any mechanical malfunction.
What is Sriwijaya Air’s safety record?
Founded in 2003, Jakarta-based Sriwijaya Air group flies largely domestic routes.
The budget airline has had a solid safety record, with no onboard casualties in four incidents recorded on the Aviation Safety Network database.
However, a farmer was killed in 2008 when one of its planes went off the runway while landing due to a hydraulic issue.
Is flying in Indonesia safe?
Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, with more than 260 million people, has been plagued by transport accidents on land, sea, and air because of overcrowding on ferries, aging infrastructure, and poorly enforced safety standards.
In 2007, the European Union and the US banned all Indonesian airlines following a series of crashes and reports of deteriorating oversight and maintenance since deregulation in the late 1990s.
The US lifted the restrictions in 2016 and the EU rescinded the ban in 2018.
What other plane crashes have happened in Indonesia?
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.
The plane involved in Saturday’s disaster did not have the automated flight-control system that played a role in the Lion Air crash and another crash of a 737 Max 8 jet in Ethiopia five months later, leading to the grounding of the Max 8 for 20 months.
The Lion Air crash was Indonesia’s worst airline disaster since 1997 when 234 people were killed on a Garuda Airlines flight near Medan on Sumatra island.
In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.
Additional reporting by agencies
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