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Sriwijaya Air plane carrying 62 people goes missing after takeoff from Jakarta

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Indonesian passenger jet disappears from radar moments after take off 01:47

A Sriwijaya Air passenger plane lost contact with air traffic controllers after taking off from Jakarta on a domestic flight Saturday, officials said. The jet, a Boeing 737-500, was carrying 62 people.

Indonesia's Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2:36 p.m. The plane disappeared from radar four minutes later.

Tracking service Flightradar24 said the plane lost more than 10,000 feet of altitude in less than a minute.

A statement released by the airline said the plane was on an estimated 90-minute flight from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia's Borneo island. There were 56 passengers and six active crew members onboard.

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 aircraft.

Relatives of passengers on board missing Sriwijaya Air flight SJY182 wait for news at the Supadio airport in Pontianak on Indonesia's Borneo island on January 9, 2021. LOUIS ANDERSON/AFP via Getty Images

Sriwijaya Air's president director says plane was airworthy

Sriwijaya Air President Director Jefferson Irwin Jauwena says the plane was airworthy and flew to Pontianak and Pangkal Pinang city on the same day.

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

He said the plane was delayed due to bad weather, not because of any damage. It was raining at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport when the plane took off for Pontianak, around 740 kilometers (460 miles) away. 

Sriwijaya began operations in 2003 and flies to more than 50 destinations in Indonesia and a handful of nearby countries, according to its website. Its fleet includes a variety of 737 variants as well as the regional ATR 72 twin-engine turboprop plane. 

The twin-engine, single aisle Boeing 737 is one of the world's most popular planes 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.   

By The Associated Press

No radio beacon signal detected

No radio beacon signal has been detected from the missing plane, says Bambang Suryo Aji, deputy head of operations and preparedness for Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency. 

He said his agency was investigating why the plane's emergency locator transmitter, or ELT, was not transmitting a signal that could confirm whether it had crashed.

"The satellite system owned by neighboring Australia also did not pick up on the ELT signal from the missing plane," Aji said.

By The Associated Press

Rescuers collect plane debris and clothes

Plane debris was being examined Saturday to see if it was from the missing aircraft, officials said.

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 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.

By The Associated Press

7 children and 3 babies were onboard

Sriwijaya Air said in a statement that seven children and three babies were onboard the missing aircraft. The plane was manned by six active crew members, and another six crew members were passengers it said.

"Our prayers go out to all our passengers and crew and their families," the statement said, according to a translation from Google. 


Warships deployed in plane search

A dozen vessels have been deployed in a search and rescue operation for the missing plane, including four warships, said Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi.

The search is centered between Lancang island and Laki island, part of the Thousand Islands chain just north of Jakarta.

By The Associated Press

Aircraft was 26 years old

The aircraft that went missing Saturday took its first flight in May of 1994, according to Flightradar24, meaning it was more than 26 years old. It isn't uncommon, however, for planes of that age to be operating, BBC News reports.

"The Sriwijaya Air flight appears to have been carried out by a Boeing 737-500," writes BBC business correspondent Theo Leggett. "This plane formed part of the 737 Classic series, the second generation of 737, which was built during the 1980s and 1990s. The plane, seen as a workhorse aircraft for many years, has a strong safety record."

He said the aircraft shouldn't be confused with the more modern 737 Max, which was grounded after two fatal accidents in 2018 and 2019.


Witnesses say they saw and heard at least one explosion

Witnesses say they saw and heard at least one explosion Saturday, BBC News reports. 

Solihin, a fisherman, told the BBC Indonesian service he saw a crash. His captain made the decision to head back to land.

"The plane fell like lightning into the sea and exploded in the water," he said.

"It was pretty close to us, the shards of a kind of plywood almost hit my ship."


Flightradar24: Highest altitude reached was 10,900 feet

Tracking service Flightradar24 says the highest altitude the aircraft reached was 10,900 feet, and that the last recorded altitude was 250 feet.


Boeing "working to gather more information"

Boeing says it is "aware of media reports from Jakarta" and is closely monitoring the situation.

"We are working to gather more information," it says.


Island residents say they found objects believed to be from plane

Residents of an island close to where the aircraft went missing told the BBC Indonesian service they found objects they believed were from the aircraft, the BBC reports.

Local media reports also said fishermen spotted metal objects believed to be parts of a jet on Saturday afternoon in the Thousand Islands, a chain of islands north of Jakarta.



Indonesia has been plagued by transportation accidents

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, 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. It was the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since 1997, when 234 people were killed on a Garuda flight near Medan on Sumatra island. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.

Sriwijaya Air is one of Indonesia's discount carriers, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations. 

By The Associated Press
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