Indonesia Boeing Plane Crashes Into Sea: The Latest Updates

The Four Percent

BANGKOK — A passenger jet carrying more than 60 people crashed into the Java Sea on Saturday, minutes after taking off from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, Indonesian officials said, bringing renewed attention to a nation long cursed by aviation disasters.

The fate of the plane, a Boeing 737-500, also carried the potential to ensnare the troubled American aviation giant in more bad publicity, even though the cause of the crash had yet to be determined.

Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry said that the last contact with the plane, Sriwijaya Air Flight 182, was at 2:40 p.m. local time. The plane was bound for the city of Pontianak on the island of Borneo. It had 62 people aboard, according to the Transportation Ministry. Four minutes after taking off amid a heavy monsoon season rain, following a bad weather delay, the 26-year-old plane lost more than 10,000 feet in altitude in less than 60 seconds, according to Flightradar24, the flight-tracking service.

On Sunday morning, the Jakarta police said that body parts and some clothes from the passengers had been found in waters just northwest of the Indonesian capital. The Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency said the night before that it had found pieces of debris believed to be from the plane’s wreckage, but that darkness and inclement weather had impeded its search. The area where the remains and debris were located is known as the Thousand Islands.

But Sriwijaya Air, which is Indonesia’s third-largest carrier and began operations in 2003, had never suffered a fatal crash.

And the Sriwijaya Air plane that disappeared from radar screens on Saturday was from Boeing’s 737 500 series, which is considered a workhorse model with years of safe flying associated with it.

Lion Air Group, which owns Indonesia’s largest carrier, signed what were then the two largest aviation deals in history, one with Boeing and another with Airbus. With its 737 Max model, Boeing had targeted carriers in the developing world, like Lion Air, which were eager to pack their fleets with new jets designed for short, moneymaking routes.

But aviation experts warned that selling planes to carriers that were growing quickly in unregulated environments could be a recipe for disaster.

Jefferson Irwin Jauwena, the chief executive of Sriwijaya Air, said on Saturday night that they “are very concerned about this incident.”

“We hope that your prayers will help the search process to run well and smoothly,” he added. “What we will also do is to provide the best possible assistance to families.”

Rapin Akbar, the uncle of Rizki Wahyudi, one of the passengers on Flight 182, said his nephew called him on Saturday to tell him that the flight from Jakarta to Pontianak had been delayed. Mr. Rapin reminded his nephew, a national park employee, to keep his face mask on while at the airport to avoid contracting the coronavirus. Mr. Rizki’s wife, child, mother and cousin were also on the plane.

As he waited for search and rescue boats to report back, Mr. Rapin said he was holding out hope for his family members. “There will be a miracle from Allah,” he said.

Indonesian aviation analysts said that this crash could imperil Sriwijaya Air’s viability, especially as the coronavirus has emptied Indonesian skies of many planes.

“Sriwijaya is trying hard to survive, and the pandemic is making it harder,” said Gerry Soejatman, an Indonesian aviation expert. “This crash may spell the end for it.”

Indonesian pilots have also complained that the coronavirus has decreased their opportunities to practice their skills and refresh their training. At one point during the pandemic, Sriwijaya was operating only five aircraft, Mr. Soejatman said, lowering crew morale.

At Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, investigators prepared for the grimly familiar task of finding out what went wrong in the nation’s skies.

“Whenever we hear this kind of news, we get ready,” Ony Suryo Wibowo, an investigator for the committee, said on Saturday. “We are gathering all the information we can get.”

Niraj Chokshi contributed reporting from New York.

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