Jakarta: A Lion Air jet carrying 189 people crashed in the Java Sea off Indonesia, in potentially the worst commercial aviation disaster in three years. Flight JT610, operating a brand new Boeing Co. 737 Max 8, took off from the capital Jakarta at 6:20 a.m. local time Monday and lost contact 13 minutes later when it was at an altitude of about 3,000 feet, according to the National Search and Rescue Agency. The aircraft was heading for the popular tourist destination of Pangkal Pinang.
Debris including personal belongings and life vests have been found and ships and helicopters have been deployed to the site, said agency head M. Syaugi. The shallow waters in the area have an average depth of about 150 feet. “We’re trying to dive to locate the plane," Syaugi said. Authorities earlier said there were 188 people on board.
Based on the number of people on board, the incident could be the most lethal incident since a Russian Metrojet aircraft with 224 people on board crashed in Egypt in 2015.
Jakarta-based Lion Air, owned by privately held PT Lion Mentari Airlines, is a budget carrier that started operations in 2000. The carrier is among major customers for Boeing and Airbus SE in Asia. in February 2012, Lion Air placed an order for 201 of the in-development 737 MAX and 29 of the extended range 737-900 in a $22.4 billion deal valued at list price.
The carrier flies 183 routes locally as well to some overseas destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and China, according to its website. Its unit Malindo Air was the first in the world to put the 737 Max plane into service.
The last major accident in Indonesia was in December 2014 when AirAsia Indonesia’s Airbus A320 aircraft crashed into the waters after taking off from Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board.
Boeing said in a tweet that it’s “aware of reports of an airplane accident and is closely monitoring the situation." Engine maker CFM International says it’s standing by to offer assistance to Lion Air, CNBC reported, citing a company statement. JT610 was powered by CFM LEAP-1B engines, according to the report.
Lion Air has suffered several hull losses, the industry term for aircraft damaged beyond repair. The most recent was in 2013, when a two-month-old Boeing 737-800 landed in the water short of a runway at Denpasar-Ngurah Rai Bali International Airport. While the aircraft fuselage broke apart on impact, there were no fatalities.
The carrier was on the European Union’s list of banned air carriers from 2007 through 2016, according to the Aviation Safety Network database maintained by the Flight Safety Foundation.
The 737 is a workhorse of budget carriers and Boeing’s all-time best-seller aircraft. The Max is the most recent model in an aircraft family dating to the mid-1960s. The database lists 208 hull losses for the single-aisle aircraft since 1970.
The crashed Lion Air passenger jet has 800 hours of flight time, according to Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee. According to Planespotters.net, the jet was delivered to the airline in August this year.