A passenger plane with 189 people on board has crashed into the sea off Indonesia’s island of Java, only minutes after taking off from the capital Jakarta.
The Lion Air Boeing 737 lost contact with air traffic officials on the ground on Monday morning only 13 minutes after leaving the Soekarno Hatta international airport for Pangkal Pinang, the main city in the Bangka Belitung Islands, according to Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (SAR).
“The plane crashed into water about 30 to 40 meters deep,” a spokesman for the SAR, Yusuf Latif told AFP.
Officials say 189 people were on board, up from an earlier report of 188. There were one child and two babies among the passengers, according to the officials.
“The plane had requested to return to base before finally disappearing from the radar,” he added in a statement.
The head of the search and rescue agency, Muhmmad Syaugi, also told a news conference that the wreckage had been found near where the plane lost contact, but they “don’t know yet whether there are any survivors.”
“We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm,” he added.
Boats, helicopters and 130 rescuers, including teams from three cities have been deployed to the vicinity of the crash site in the Java Sea, according to the SAR.
The SAR has also released images of debris thought to be from the plane, including aircraft seats. It said the plane was at an altitude of 3,000 meters when it lost contact.
Indonesian officials said they had asked Australian air traffic controllers for assistance when they lost the plane, but they could not detect the aircraft either.
An official of Indonesia’s Safety Transport Committee said he could not confirm the cause of the crash, and that they should wait until the recovery of the plane’s black boxes.
Officials, however, said it is unlikely that weather played a part in the crash.
“We will collect all data from the control tower,” said Soerjanto Tjahjono. “The plane is so modern, it transmits data from the plane and that we will review too. But the most important is the black box.”
The manufacturer of the plane, Boeing, tweeted that it was “aware” of the incident and “closely monitoring the situation.”
Indonesia – the world’s largest archipelagic country – relies heavily on air transport to connect over 13,000 of its islands.
Its aviation industry, however, has been grappling with serious safety issues, giving the Indonesian air transport system the reputation of the least safe in the world.
Since 2001, there have been at least 40 air accidents on Indonesian soil that resulted in fatalities, according to the website aviation-safety.net.
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.
In 2014, an AirAsia plane crashed, resulting in the loss of 162 lives.