BALI, Indonesia A Lion Air jet that slammed into the sea as it tried to land on the Indonesian resort island of Bali over the weekend remains stuck in shallow water and must be cut into pieces for removal, vividly underlining the challenges facing the budget airline as it races to expand in Asia.
Authorities initially planned to tow the Boeing 737-800 aircraft that split in two, but have now determined it is too heavy and must be carved into several parts to avoid the possibility of damaging the area's coral reefs, said Transportation Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan.
The tail is perched on top of a reef, making it unsteady when sets of waves hit the wreckage. Divers have also faced difficulties recovering the cockpit voice recorder from the plane's partially submerged rear, a key part of the investigation as officials work to determine what caused the crash. The flight data recorder has already been removed.
All 101 passengers on the domestic flight including five foreigners from Singapore, France and Belgium and seven crew members survived Saturday's crash, and no one was seriously injured. The plane's belly thumped into the sea short of the runway at Bali's Ngurah Rai airport, fracturing the fuselage.
The accident has raised questions among some analysts about whether Lion Air may be putting growth ahead of safety. Indonesia's largest private airline, which was started in 1999 by two brothers who pooled $850,000, stunned the aviation industry two years ago when it announced the biggest-ever order for Boeing planes 230 jets in all at an event with President Barack Obama. It made headlines again last month after signing a $24 billion deal to buy 234 planes from Airbus, the French aircraft maker's largest order ever.
Lion Air has about 45 percent of Indonesia's air travel market and hopes to increase that to 60 percent by 2014 as cheap travel continues to boom in the sprawling archipelago of 240 million people. The airline has had seven accidents and incidents since 2002. Most were minor and all but one occurred during landing, according to the Aviation Safety Network's website. The worst crash in 2004 killed 25 people.
The pressure to keep planes flying, coupled with the difficulty of finding enough qualified pilots can create a bad combination, said Tom Ballantyne, a Sydney-based aviation expert.
"It's certainly an issue for fast-expanding airlines," he said.