A Sriwijaya Air jet carrying 62 people lost contact with air traffic controllers minutes after taking off from Indonesia’s capital on a domestic flight on Saturday, and debris found by fishermen was being examined to see if it was from the missing plane, officials in Jakarta said.
Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2:36 p.m. The Boeing 737-500 disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 29,000 feet (8,839 meters), he said.
The airline said in a statement that the plane was on an estimated 90-minute flight from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo island. The plane was carrying 50 passengers and 12 crew members, all Indonesian nationals, including six extra crew for another trip.
The plane was not the 737 MAX model involved in two recent deadly crashes.
Sumadi said a dozen vessels, including four warships, were deployed in a search-and-rescue operation centered between Lancang island and Laki island, part of the Thousand Islands chain just north of Jakarta.
Bambang Suryo Aji, the National Search and Rescue Agency’s deputy head of operations and preparedness, said rescuers collected plane debris and clothes that were found by fishermen. They handed the items over to the National Transportation Safety Committee for further investigation to determine whether they were from the missing plane.
A commander of one of the search-and-rescue ships who goes by a single name, Eko, said that fishermen found cables and pieces of metal in the water.
“The fishermen told us that they found them shortly after they heard an explosion like the sound of thunder,” Eko was quoted by TVOne as saying, adding that aviation fuel was found in the location where the fishermen found the debris.
A plane flying from Jakarta to Pontianak would spend most of the flight over the Java Sea.
Television footage showed relatives and friends of people aboard the plane weeping, praying and hugging each other as they waited at Jakarta’s airport and Pontianak’s airport.
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, aging infrastructure and poorly enforced safety standards.
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 on Thursday over claims it defrauded regulators overseeing the 737 MAX model, which was grounded worldwide following the two deadly crashes.