JAKARTA: Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) continues to search the waters off Tanjung Karawang where a Lion Air jet crashed on Monday morning, as hopes fade of finding any survivors of the 189 people, including a baby and two children, on board.
Basarnas’s Director of Operations Bambang Suryo Aji said as of 7 p.m. Jakarta time, the search and rescue mission has handed over to the police forensic team nine body bags containing human body parts collected from the crash site in West Java, about 75 kilometers east of the Indonesian capital.
“We are working around the clock to scour the surface but we have called divers off as visibility underwater gets too dark,” Aji said.
Most of the bodies are believed to be trapped inside the plane’s fuselage and the agency is still looking for the plane’s black box, he added.
“We have found so far the tail of the Lion Air JT 610 plane, which bears the airline’s logo,” Aji said in a press conference in Jakarta.
There were few other signs of the plane. “They are just some broken parts of the plane,” he said.
Lion Air JT 610 took off from Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta airport at 6.20 and lost contact with the air traffic controller 13 minutes later. The flight was scheduled to land in Pangkal Pinang airport in Bangka-Belitung province off Sumatra at 7.20.
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane is reported to have requested to return to the airport before it lost contact with the air controller and it is believed to have crashed into the nearby sea, which is about 30-35 kilometers deep.
“It is very unlikely that there would be any survivors given the plane debris collected from the waters are small pieces,” Basarnas spokesman, Suri Sinaga, told Arab News.
He added that the rescue team had plucked personal items such as clothes, shoes and bags believed to have belonged to the passengers, from the waters along with the plane debris.
They will be deposited in Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok containter port before being handed over to the National Transportation Safety Commission to investigate the cause of the crash.
Sinaga said Basarnas had deployed four vessels to keep searching the surface in the evening to make the most of the first 24 hours since the crash occurred.
On Tuesday, the agency will deploy helicopters to monitor the search area for other debris.
Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait told a press conference that the plane was declared airworthy by engineers qualified to check the plane and approved the plane’s release for flight and that the new aircraft started operation on Aug. 15.
The crash happened just four months after the EU decided to lift the ban for dozens of Indonesian airlines to fly into European airspace on June 14.
The executive body of the EU, the European Commission (EC), updated its EU Air Safety List in June, which removed all remaining 55 Indonesian air carriers from Indonesia, marking the total removal of 62 Indonesian airlines from the list, following “further improvements to the aviation safety situation that was ascertained in the country.”
Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi defended the country’s improved air safety record but said that violations by airline operators would be subject to the law.
Indonesia has not had a major airline accident since the Air Asia flight from Surabaya in East Java bound for Singapore went missing in December 2014 and crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 people on board.
The last fatal air crash was in August when a small Pilatus Porter light plane of Dimonim Air crashed in the mountainous area of Papua province, killing eight people on board with a 12-year-old boy as the sole survivor.
Lion Air is the largest low-cost airline in Indonesia. It has had reputation issues concerning delaying flights, s poor safety record, and reports of its pilots being arrested by police for using drugs.