A Sriwijaya Air jet carrying 62 people lost contact with air traffic controllers minutes after taking off from Indonesia’s capital on a domestic flight on Saturday, and debris found by fishermen was being examined to see if it was from the missing plane, officials said.
Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2:36 pm (local time). The Boeing 737-500 disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 29,000 feet (8,839 metres), he said.
The airline said in a statement that the plane was on an estimated 90-minute flight from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo Island. The plane was carrying 50 passengers and 12 crew members, all Indonesian nationals, including six extra crew for another trip.
Sumadi said a dozen vessels, including four warships were deployed in a search-and-rescue operation centred between Lancang island and Laki island, part of the Thousand Islands chain just north of Jakarta.
Bambang Suryo Aji, the National Search and Rescue Agencys 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 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.
Aji said no radio beacon signal had been detected from the 26-year-old plane. 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 neighbouring Australia also did not pick up on the ELT signal from the missing plane,” Aji said.
Tracking service Flightradar24 said on its Twitter feed that Flight SJ182 lost more than 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) of altitude in less than a minute, about four minutes after take-off.
Television footage showed relatives and friends of people on board the plane weeping, praying and hugging each other as they waited at airports in Jakarta and Pontianak.
Chicago-based Boeing said on its Twitter feed that it was aware of the incident. It said it was closely monitoring the situation and “working to gather more information.”
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.