'Hoping for a miracle': Relatives of passengers in Lion Air plane crash cling to hope

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Boeing are providing assistance in the investigation into the Lion Air flight that crashed into the sea north of Java Island with 189 people on board.

Family members of those on board Indonesia's doomed Lion Air plane were hoping for a miracle on Tuesday as they gathered at crisis centres set up at the hospital and the airport.

The flight departed from Indonesia's capital Jakarta and plunged into the sea on Monday with all on board feared dead.

Haris Kiswanto's brother was on the flight. 

"My brother Bambang Rosali Usman, his name is on the manifest of Lion Air JT 610. But we are still hoping for a miracle, that he is fine and healthy, maybe stranded somewhere," Mr Kiswanto said.

Relatives hold a prayer session at the house of one of the passengers of Lion Air flight JT610.
Source: AAP

Indonesia has stepped up its search for the wreckage of the airliner, deploying underwater beacons to trace the flight's black box recorders in a bid to uncover why an almost-new plane crashed minutes after takeoff.

There were 189 people on board flight JT610 of budget airline Lion Air when ground staff lost contact with the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft early on Monday, 13 minutes after it had left the airport in Jakarta.

Indonesian rescuers collect and classify wreckage pieces and passenger belongings.
Source: AAP

On tarpaulins at Jakarta's port, officers laid out items retrieved from the sea ranging from oxygen bottles to personal belongings such as wallets, a mobile phone, cash and backpacks.

Despite failure to locate the flight data recorders after the initial 24-hour search, chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency, Muhammad Syaugi said he was confident the search and recovery operation would go ahead smoothly in the coming days thanks to favourable weather conditions.

Indonesian rescuers collect and classify wreckage pieces and passenger belongings.
Source: AAP

It's been revealed the Lion Air plane had a technical problem on a previous flight. 

The company's chief executive Edward Sirait said the problem had been resolved according to procedure, but declined to specify the exact nature of the fault. 

"This plane previously flew from Denpasar to Cengkareng (Jakarta)," he told reporters.

"There was a report of a technical issue which had been resolved according to procedure." 

Indonesian rescue team members have retrieved body parts from the water where a plane crashed.
Source: AAP

He said Lion has operated 11 aircraft of the same model, the Boeing 737 Max 8, and the other planes did not have the same technical problem.

Sirait said there was no plan to ground the rest of its Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet. 

US-based Boeing said it was "deeply saddened" by news of the crash.

Boeing reportedly suspended release of the 737 MAX just days out from its first commercial delivery last year due to an engine issue, according to airline safety and product review site airlineratings.com.

Lion Air Chief Executive Edward Sirait said on Monday that the plane had encountered an unspecified “technical issue” on its previous flight, which was from the resort island of Bali to Jakarta, but this had been “resolved according to procedure”.

“We don’t dare to say what the facts are, or are not, yet,” he told reporters. “We are also confused about the why, since it was a new plane.”

Indonesian relatives of the plane crash victims cry as they wait for the news at the airport in Sukarno Hatta Airport, Indonesia.
Source: EPA

The plane 'fell out of the sky'

All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were likely killed in the accident, rescue officials said Monday, as they announced they had found human remains and would continue the grim search through the night.

The Boeing-737 MAX, which went into service just months ago, vanished from radar 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta, plunging into the Java Sea moments after it had asked to return to the Indonesian capital.

Flight JT 610 sped up as it suddenly lost altitude in the minutes before it disappeared, according to flight data tracking websites, with authorities saying witnesses saw the jet plunge into the water.

"The victims that we found, their bodies were no longer intact and it's been hours so it is likely 189 people have died," search and rescue agency operational director Bambang Suryo Aji told reporters.

Debris from the crashed Lion Air plane in the sea off the coast of Tanjung Pakis Karawang, Indonesia, 29 October 2018.
Source: EPA

Indonesian fishermen Budi and Gauk witnessed the Boeing 737 MAX 8 literally fall out of the sky near where the two men were fishing about 15 km off the coast, silently at first and then with a deafening crash as it smacked into the sea.

“You could feel the explosion from the shockwave in the water,” said Gauk, who goes by only one name, telling the pair’s story from the beach in Karawang regency. 

What went wrong?

The privately owned airline said in a statement that the aircraft, which had only been in operation since August, was airworthy, with its pilot and co-pilot together having accumulated 11,000 hours of flying time.

Indonesian rescuer moves parts from a crashed Lion Air passenger plane in waters off Tanjung Karawang, West Java.
Source: AAP

The head of Indonesia's transport safety committee said he could not confirm the cause of the crash, which would have to wait until the recovery of the plane's black boxes, as the cockpit voice recorder and data flight recorder are known.

"The plane is so modern, it transmits data from the plane, and that we will review too. But the most important is the blackbox," said Soerjanto Tjahjono.

Safety experts say nearly all accidents are caused by a combination of factors and only rarely have a single identifiable cause.

The weather at the time of the crash was clear, Tjahjono said.

Rescue teams search for survivors from the Lion Air flight JT 610.
Source: AAP

Investigators will focus on the cockpit voice and data recorders and building up a picture of the brand-new plane's technical status, the condition and training of the crew as well as weather and air traffic recordings.

The effort to find the wreckage and retrieve the black boxes represents a major challenge for investigators in Indonesia.

Under international rules, the US National Transportation Safety Board will automatically assist with the inquiry into Monday's crash, backed up by technical advisers from Boeing and US-French engine maker CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and Safran.

Indonesian rescuers evacuating parts from a crashed Lion Air passenger plane in waters off Tanjung Karawang, West Java.
Source: AAP

Poor safety record

Indonesia relies heavily on air transport to connect its thousands of islands but has a poor aviation safety record and has suffered several fatal crashes in recent years.

A 12-year-old boy was the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed eight people in mountainous eastern Indonesia in August.

In August 2015, a commercial passenger aircraft operated by Indonesian carrier Trigana crashed in Papua due to bad weather, killing all 54 people on board.

A Lion Air commercial plane photographed on October 7, 2018.

In 2014, an AirAsia plane crashed with the loss of 162 lives.

Indonesian investigators' final report showed a chronically faulty component in a rudder control system, poor maintenance and the pilots' inadequate response were major factors in what was supposed to be a routine flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

Lion Air, a low-cost airline, has been involved in a number of incidents.

Last year one of its Boeing jets collided with a Wings Air plane as it landed at Kualanamu airport on the island of Sumatra, although no one was injured.

In May 2016, two Lion Air planes collided at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport, while a month earlier a plane operated by Batik Air - part of the Lion Group - clipped a TransNusa plane.

In 2013 a Lion Air jet with a rookie pilot at the controls undershot the runway and crashed into the sea in Bali, splitting the plane in two. Several people were injured in the crash, although no one was killed.

Lion Air Boeing 737 removed from the sea after a crash near Denpasar on April 17, 2013.

Indonesia's air travel industry is booming, with the number of domestic passengers growing significantly over the past decade, but it has acquired a reputation for poor regulation.

Last year the Indonesian air traffic controllers association revealed that the rate of take-off and landings in Jakarta allowed by state-run air navigation company AirNav was more than the airport could handle, increasing the chance of accidents.

The country's carriers have in the past faced years-long bans from entering European Union and US airspace over their safety records.

Published 29 October 2018 at 6:11pm, updated 30 October 2018 at 5:14pm
Source: AFP - SBS