Indonesian divers discover body parts and debris from plane crash

10 January 2021, 08:02 | Updated: 10 January 2021, 08:24

Divers pull wreckage from the passenger plane out of the Java Sea
Divers pull wreckage from the passenger plane out of the Java Sea. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Indonesian divers have discovered body parts and debris from the Boeing 737-500 plane that crashed with 62 people on board shortly after take-off.

A search and rescue team located parts of the wreckage at a depth of 75 feet in the Java Sea a day after the Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 fell from the sky just minutes after departing from Jakarta.

Body parts, items of clothing and scraps of metal have all been retrieved from the water's surface and there was no sign of survivors.

Authorities detected a signal from the aircraft using sonar equipment early on Saturday morning but it remains unclear what caused the crash.

The passenger jet lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly after departing from Soekarno-Hatta airport on Saturday. The flight was headed for Pontianak, in the country's West Kalimantan province.

Data on Flightradar shows the Boeing 737-500 - two generations older than the MAX which was grounded until late last year - fell 10,000ft (3,000m) over the sea in less than a minute.

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"We received reports from the diver team that the visibility in the water is good and clear, allowing the discovery of some parts of the plane," Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said in a statement.

"We are sure that is the point where the plane crashed," he added, saying that the objects found included broken pieces of fuselage with aircraft registration parts.

Indonesia President Joko Widodo said: "I represent the government and all Indonesians in expressing my deep condolences for this tragedy."

The country's transportation minister Budi Karya Sumadi said the flight was delayed for an hour before it took off from Jakarta at 2:36pm local time (7:36am GMT).

It then disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 29,000ft, he said.

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There has been no sign of any survivors from the Indonesian plane crash
There has been no sign of any survivors from the Indonesian plane crash. Picture: PA

The transportation minister later told reporters that officials had launched massive search efforts after identifying "the possible location of the crash site".

National Search and Rescue Agency spokesman Bagus Puruhito said in a statement: "These pieces were found by the SAR team between Lancang Island and Laki Island."

Fishermen in the area around Thousand Islands, a chain of islands north of Jakarta's coast, reported hearing an explosion around 2:30pm local time on Saturday.

"We heard something explode, we thought it was a bomb or a tsunami since after that we saw the big splash from the water," fisherman Solihin, who goes by one name, told The Associated Press by phone.

"It was raining heavily and the weather was so bad. So it is difficult to see around clearly. But we can see the splash and a big wave after the sounds. We were very shocked and directly saw the plane debris and the fuel around our boat."

Indonesia's capital Jakarta located on a map
Indonesia's capital Jakarta located on a map. Picture: PA

Sriwijaya Air president Jefferson Irwin Jauwena said the plane, which was 26 years old and previously used by airlines in the United States, was airworthy.

He told reporters on Saturday that the plane had previously flown to Pontianak and Pangkal Pinang city on the same day.

"Maintenance report said everything went well and airworthy," Mr Jauwena told a news conference.

He said the plane was delayed due to bad weather, not because of any damage.

It was carrying 50 passengers and 12 crew members, all Indonesian nationals, including six extra crew for another trip.

The twin-engine, single-aisle Boeing 737 is one of the world's most popular aircraft for short and medium-haul flights.

The 737-500 is a shorter version of the widely used 737 model. Airlines began using this type of plane in the 1990s, with production ending two decades ago.

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, ageing 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.

The plane involved in Saturday's incident 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.