The Boeing 737-524, a Sriwijaya Air flight, had taken off from Jakarta. Officials said they believed they found part of the wreckage.
Credit…Ed Wray/Getty Images
A passenger jet carrying more than 60 people crashed into the Java Sea on Saturday, minutes after taking off from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, Indonesian officials said, bringing renewed attention to a nation long cursed by aviation disasters.
The fate of the plane, a Boeing 737-524, also carried the potential to ensnare the troubled American aviation giant in more bad publicity, even though the cause of the crash had yet to be determined.
Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry said that the last contact with the plane, Sriwijaya Air Flight 182, was at 2:40 p.m. local time. The plane was bound for the city of Pontianak on the island of Borneo. It had 62 people aboard, according to the Transportation Ministry. Four minutes after taking off amid a heavy monsoon season rain, following a bad weather delay, the 26-year-old plane lost more than 10,000 feet in altitude in less than 60 seconds, according to Flightradar24, the flight-tracking service.
The Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency said that it had found pieces of debris in waters just northwest of Jakarta that it believed may be from the plane’s wreckage, but that darkness and inclement weather had impeded its search. The area where the debris was found is known as the Thousand Islands.
“Tomorrow we are going to survey the location,” Soerjanto Tjahjono, the head of Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, said on Saturday evening, dimming hopes that survivors would be found.
The aviation sector in Indonesia, a developing country of thousands of inhabited islands, has been plagued by crashes and safety lapses for years. As Indonesian airlines, particularly low-cost carriers, have grown rapidly to cover a vast archipelago, the domestic aviation industry has been undermined by shoddy aircraft maintenance and cavalier adherence to safety standards.
For years, top Indonesians carriers were banned from flying to the United States and Europe by those countries’ regulators. Budget airlines would start up business, only to declare bankruptcy after deadly crashes.
But Sriwijaya Air, which is Indonesia’s third-largest carrier and began operations in 2003, had never suffered a fatal crash.
And the Sriwijaya Air plane that disappeared from radar screens on Saturday was from Boeing’s 737 500 series, which is considered a workhorse model with years of safe flying associated with it.
Whatever the cause, the crash comes at a terrible time for Boeing, whose reputation and bottom line were devastated by a pair of crashes aboard its 737 Max plane two years ago.
In 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 plunged into the Java Sea with 189 people aboard after the 737 Max jetliner’s antistall system malfunctioned. Another 737 Max crashed in Ethiopia in March 2019 after a similar erroneous activation of the antistall system.