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Indonesia military chief ‘strongly believes’ crashed jet found

Dozens of divers were taking part in the recovery effort along with helicopters and ships, but authorities have all but ruled out finding any survivors.

world Updated: Oct 31, 2018 13:18 IST
AFP
AFP
Indonesia Plane Crash,Plane Crash,Lion Air Jakarta
This picture taken at the Tanjung Priok Jakarta port shows Indonesian people examining debris of the ill-fated Lion Air flight.(AFP File Photo)

The smashed fuselage of a crashed Indonesian jetliner may have been found, the country’s military chief said Wednesday, two days after the deadly accident feared to have killed 189 people.

Hadi Tjahjanto said authorities were confident sonar technology had pinpointed the location of the Boeing 737-MAX plane that plunged into the sea on Monday.

“We strongly believe we’ve determined the coordinates of the JT 610 fuselage,” he told reporters in Jakarta.

“However, it has not yet been confirmed that it is part of the fuselage.” Authorities have been searching for the downed jet’s location in water some 30-40 meters (100-130 feet) deep in the hope of also finding flight data recorders crucial to crash investigations.

Dozens of divers were taking part in the recovery effort along with helicopters and ships, but authorities have all but ruled out finding any survivors.

Boeing officials are expected to meet with Lion Air on Wednesday, after Indonesia ordered an inspection of the US plane maker’s 737-MAX jets.

The doomed plane, which went into service just a few months ago, was en route to Pangkal Pinang city when it crashed into the Java Sea off Indonesia’s northern coast moments after it had asked to return to Jakarta on Monday.

The pilot and co-pilot had more than 11,000 hours flying time between them and had undergone recent medical checkups and drug testing, the carrier said.

Aviation experts say it is too early to determine what caused the accident.

But Lion’s admission that the plane had an unspecified technical issue on a previous flight -- as well as the plane’s abrupt nosedive just 12 minutes after takeoff -- have raised questions about whether it had any faults specific to the newly released model.

“The bigger picture here is that you’ve got a lot of American carriers flying the same aircraft,” Stephen Wright, aviation expert at the University of Leeds, told AFP.

“Is there (a problem) that could affect other aircraft?” The accident has also resurrected concerns about Indonesia’s patchy air safety record which led to a now-lifted ban on its planes entering US and European airspace.

Lion’s co-founder Rusdi Kirana, now Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia, said he had met with passengers’ families and called the crisis “exhausting and saddening for everybody”.

In a 2015 interview, Kirana said that “my airline is the worst in the world, but you don’t have a choice”.

Founded in 1999, the budget carrier capitalised on a boom in Indonesia’s aviation industry, but has been plagued by safety woes and complaints over unreliable scheduling and poor service.

It has been involved in a number of incidents including a fatal 2004 crash and a collision between two Lion Air planes at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport.

Indonesia’s transport minister ordered an inspection of all 737-MAX aircraft on Tuesday.

Lion Air Managing Director Daniel Putut said the airline had “many questions” for the Chicago-based company and they would discuss the delivery of remaining aircraft 737-MAX models, Indonesian news website tirto.id reported.

Lion Air, Indonesia’s biggest budget airline which has been engaged in huge expansion, announced earlier this year it was buying 50 Boeing-737 MAX 10 jets for $6.24 billion.

Boeing suspended release of the fuel-efficient 737 MAX just days before its first commercial delivery last year due to an issue with engines.

But the narrow-body jet was subsequently cleared for commercial delivery and has had thousands of orders from more than 100 customers worldwide.

Boeing said it was providing technical assistance under the direction of Indonesian authorities, while the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also helping the probe.

Search teams have taken up the grim task of separating human remains from plane debris and recovered personal effects, sending the body parts -- including from an infant -- to hospital for DNA testing.

Some 48 body bags filled with limbs and other remains have so far been recovered, authorities said Wednesday.

Among the personal effects plucked from the water was a smartphone case with the image of a couple walking hand-in-hand over a bridge.

The story went viral online as social media users tried to figure out who the couple was and if they were on the plane.

The pair were later identified as Ine Yunita Savitri and her husband Wahjoe Noegrohantoro, who was on the downed jet. Savitri was not on the plane.

On Tuesday, their daughter Samantha posted the image to her Instagram account with the words: “Dad, I love you every day”.

First Published: Oct 31, 2018 13:18 IST