'All hope lost' in finding plane crash survivors

Top News | 30 Oct 2018

An Indonesian search and rescue agency official estimated there would be no survivors from the Lion Air plane that crashed into the sea north of Java Island yesterday.

"We need to find the main wreckage," said Bambang Suryo, operational director of the agency. "I predict there are no survivors, based on body parts found so far."

Lion Air flight JT610, with 189 people on board, lost contact 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta. Among the passengers were a child and two babies.

Aviation tracking website Flightradar24 said the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane was a brand-new aircraft that had only been in use for a couple of months. It said the plane was delivered to the airline in August.

Vessels searching in the waters for wreckage have found various items of debris. The plane sank in waters up to 35 meters deep, about 15 kilometers north of the coast of Java island.

The plane had a technical issue that required it to be briefly grounded for repairs, the carrier's chief executive Edward Sirait said.

"It got repaired [in Bali] and then it was flown to Jakarta," he said, without specifying the nature of the problem. "Engineers in Jakarta received notes and did another repair before it took off [yesterday]. That's the normal procedure for any plane."

The crash placed Indonesia's aviation industry under the microscope. It is "symptomatic of the overall concern that the aviation industry has with Indonesia's air-safety record," said Shukor Yusof of Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau Analytics.

Between 2010 and 2015, Indonesia has had an air incident each year where the plane had to be written off, Yusof said. Indonesia "needs a lot of assistance from aviation specialists and experts," he said, adding, "the country appears unable to resolve this problem on its own."

Lion Air was banned, along with other Indonesian airlines, from flying into European airspace until 2016.

Lion Air's first deadly accident in 2004 saw 26 people killed and more than 100 injured when a plane skidded at an airport in the central Java city of Solo.

Amid the angst and pain, one Indonesian man described how Jakarta's notorious traffic inadvertently saved his life after he arrived too late to catch the doomed flight.

Sony Setiawan, an official in the finance ministry, had meant to be on board the flight - a journey he and his colleagues caught on a weekly basis. But while his friends battled their way through Jakarta's daily congestion to make the flight, Sony found himself stuck on a toll road for hours.

"I usually take JT610 - my friends and I always take this plane," Setiawan said. "I don't know why the traffic at the toll road was so bad. I usually arrive in Jakarta at 3am but this morning I arrived at the airport at 6.20am and I missed the flight."

But Setiawan said any gratitude he felt was tinged with the knowledge so many people, including six of his colleagues, were not so fortunate.

"The first time I heard I cried," he said. "I know my friends were on that flight." Setiawan, who is from Bandung in West Java, said he managed to catch a second flight to Pangkal Pinang city and only learned of the crash once he landed safely. The call he made to his family was filled with emotion.

"My family was in shock and my mother cried, but I told them I was safe, so I just have to be grateful," he said. The finance ministry said 20 of its employees were on the plane.


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