A round-the-clock search is underway for the bodies of the 189 passengers onboard Lion Air flight JT 610, which crashed into the sea off Jakarta on Monday morning.
Human remains were recovered from the crash site, about 15km (9 miles) off the coast. Authorities say search and rescue teams are now focusing on several areas off the coast of Java where they believe the body of the plane is located, saying that is where they expect to find the most victims. They do not expect to find survivors.
The passenger plane, flying from Jakarta to an Indonesian tin-mining region, lost contact with air traffic control about 13 minutes after take off on Monday morning. Flight data showed that it made a sudden, sharp dive into the sea. The cause of the crash is unknown.
Search teams have so far filled 10 body bags. Another 14 bags filled with debris, including handbags, clothing, mobile phones, ID cards and driving licences, have also been collected.
The head of Basarnas, the national search and rescue agency, Muhammad Syauqi, said that no human remains had been found since 11am on Monday. As a result an underwater search had begun, involving 30 specialised divers, according to the Jakarta Post.
Lion Air has flown 169 family members of those on board JT610 to Jakarta to help with identifying the remains.
The plane went down in waters about 30-35 metres (98-115ft) deep and divers were searching areas they believe the plane might be, based on wind and current patterns. The search is due to last for seven days, with an additional three days if the plane has not been found.
Families of those onboard waited anxiously for news at Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta. Forensics officers asked them to assist with identification by providing medical and dental records at the police hospital in East Jakarta.
One of those onboard was Bhavye Suneja, who lived in Jakarta with his wife of two years. The rest of his family live in Delhi.
Kapish Gandhi, Suneja’s cousin, said the family was devastated by the news and had gathered together in Delhi. “We saw it on the television this morning and didn’t know whether to believe it,” Gandhi said. “We are all speechless.”
Gandhi described Suneja as someone who loved his work. “He was very much interested in it,” he said.
A second foreigner, 26-year-old Italian national and former professional cyclist Andrea Manfredi is believed to be among those who were on board JT-610.
Italian newspaper Il Messaggero reported the news, saying the Italian foreign ministry confirmed Indonesian media reports that included Manfredi’s name was on the flight manifest.
Manfredi’s former cycling team Bardiani expressed their condolences via its Twitter account on Monday. “The memory of a serious guy and in love with his sport, will remain indelible in the minds of all those who, in these years, have had the good fortune to know him.”
As relatives waited for news, they were warned about false images purporting to be of passengers onboard were being circulated online.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster relief agency, published examples of misleading Twitter posts, including an image of a fuselage of a Lion Air plane lying in the sea. Nugroho said it was being shared as an image of the JT610 flight, but this was a “hoax”.
“This is a photo of the wreck of the aircraft of Lion Air JT904”, which crashed into water in Bali in 2013. All onboard survived the incident.
The JT610 plane that crashed off Jakarta was a Boeing 737 Max 8 jet, a new model that was launched globally last year. The plane had been in use for less than three months.
Lion Air’s chief executive, Edward Sirait, told reporters the plane had suffered “a technical issue” on Sunday night but engineers had cleared it to fly on Monday morning.
“This plane previously flew from Denpasar to Jakarta,” he said. “There was a report of a technical issue, which had been resolved according to procedure.”
Sirait did not elaborate on the issue and said he had no plans to ground the rest of Lion Air’s Max 8 fleet. The airline operates 11 of the Boeing planes. The Boeing Company released a statement saying it was “deeply saddened” by the news and extended “heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of those on board”. The company further said it was providing technical assistance at the request and under the direction of government authorities investigating the accident.
An official from AirNav Indonesia has said the JT610 pilot asked to turn back only two to three minutes after taking off from Soekarno Hatta airport.
“We received the request from the pilot to return to base. The air traffic controller gave permission to return, and there is a recording of it,” said AirNav president director Novie Riyanto in a press conference at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten.
The crash has renewed concerns about the safety of Indonesian airlines, soon after US and European regulators removed prohibitions against them.
The United States and the European Union had banned Indonesian aircraft from their skies in 2007 after a string of accidents. The Federal Aviation Administration lifted that ban in August 2016.
In June, European regulators, who had already allowed Lion Air and a few other Indonesian carriers to resume flying to Europe, lifted their ban on remaining Indonesian carriers.
A spokesman said the European Commission had no immediate plans to renew the ban on Lion Air, but the Australian government warned its officials and contractors not to fly on Lion Air pending findings from the crash investigation.
Additional reporting by Kakoli Bhattacharya
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