Indonesian Plane Asked To Return To Base Before Crashing Into Sea

Lion Air flight JT610 attempted to return to Jakarta before disappearing from radar screens 13 minutes after take off on Monday morning.

It is not known if any of the 189 passengers and crew onboard the 737 MAX 8 plane survived, according to officials, after it vanished shortly after takeoff at about 10.30am AEST.

Among those onboard were 178 adults, one child and two infants and three crew in training as well as one technician, Lion Air said in a statement.

Debris, including life jackets, personal items and clothing have been found near where the plane is believed to have gone down, about 15km off the coast of Bekasi, West Java.

An Indonesian rescuer evacuating parts from a crashed Lion Air passenger plane in waters off Tanjung Karawang, West Java, Indonesia, 29 October 2018. (AAP: Supplied)

Rescue officials said they had recovered some human remains from the crash site.

“We don’t know yet whether there are any survivors,” the head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, Muhmmad Syaugi, told a news conference in Jakarta.

He added that no distress signal had been received from the aircraft’s emergency transmitter.

Rescue teams bring personal items and wreckage ashore at the port in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta. Image: Getty

The pilot had asked to return to base after the plane took off, the head of Indonesia’s transport safety committee, told reporters.

“It’s correct that an RTB was requested and had been approved but we’re still trying to figure out the reason,” Soerjanto Tjahjono said.

“We hope the black box is not far from the main wreckage so it can be found soon,” he said, referring to the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder.

In a statement Lion Air said the plane was commanded by Captain Bhavye Suneja and co-pilot Harvino. The pair had 11,000 flight hours between them.

They were assisted by six cabin crew, named by the airline as Shintia Melina, Citra Noivita Anggelia, Alviani Hidayatul Solikha, Damayanti Simarmata, Mery Yulianda, and Deny Maula.

Indonesian relatives of the plane crash victims cry as they wait for the news at the airport in Sukarno Hatta Airport, Indonesia. Image: AAP

Items such as handphones and life vests were found in waters about 30 meters to 35 meters (98 to 115 ft) deep near where the plane, a Boeing 737 MAX 8, lost contact, he said.

“We are there already, our vessels, our helicopter is hovering above the waters, to assist,” Syaugi said.

“We are trying to dive down to find the wreck.”

Flight tracker websites reported the plane had vanished from displays soon after takeoff. A recorded flight path on Flightradar24 reported the plane's altitude had quickly dropped to 3650 feet, from an earlier altitude of 5450, just before it disappeared over the sea.

At least 23 government officials were on board the plane, which an air navigation spokesman said had sought to turn back just before losing contact, Reuters reported.

“We don’t dare to say what the facts are, or are not, yet,” Edward Sirait, the chief executive of Lion Air Group, told Reuters.

“We are also confused about the why, since it was a new plane.”

The flight was en route to the Indonesian city of Pangkal Pinang. Relatives and loved ones of the passengers have gathered at the airport in that city.

Boeing, the plane's manufacturer, expressed its concern after the Indonesia Ministry of Transportation confirmed the wreckage of the plane had been located.

Indonesian rescuers moving a body bag containing the remains of a victim of a plane crash in waters off Tanjung Karawang, West Java, Indonesia, 29 October 2018. (Image: AAP)

"The Boeing Company is deeply saddened by the loss of Flight JT 610," the company said in a statement.

"Boeing stands ready to provide technical assistance to the accident investigation."

Safety investigators will focus on the cockpit voice and data recorders and building up a picture of the brand-new plane’s technical status, the condition and training of the crew as well as weather and air traffic recordings.

The effort to find the wreckage and retrieve the black boxes represents a major challenge for investigators in Indonesia, where an AirAsia Airbus jet crashed in the Java Sea in December 2015.

"A few flakes of Lion Air plane that crashed in waters of Karachi," he wrote in the first tweet, accompanying the photos.

"Lion Air aircraft debris JT 610 falling in the waters of Karachi. Several tug boats help handle the evacuation," he wrote in the second, alongside the video.

Relatives of passengers of Lion Air flight JT610 that crashed into the sea, cry at Depati Amir airport in Pangkal Pinang, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. (Antara Foto/Elza Elvia via REUTERS)

"We cannot give any comment at this moment... we are trying to collect all the information and data," Edward Sirait, chief executive of Lion Air Group, told Reuters.

The Australian Embassy in Jakarta is currently investigating whether any Australians were on board the flight.

Indonesian relatives take a picture of a passenger list of the plane crash victims as they wait for the news at the Lion Air Branch office at Soekarno Hatta Airport, in Indonesia, 29 October 2018. (Image: AAP)

"The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is aware of reports of the missing Lion Air aircraft in Indonesia," a DFAT spokesperson told ten daily.

"The Australian Embassy in Jakarta is making urgent enquiries with local authorities to determine if any Australians were affected."

Lion Air, a low-cost carrier, is Indonesia's largest private airline.

Lion Air officials check the passenger list of Lion Air flight JT610 (Antara Foto/Elza Elvia via REUTERS)

Lion Air had boasted on its website of its safety ranking being upgraded in June to the top rating of seven stars by global rating agency AirlineRatings.com.

More to come

With Reuters

Featured Image: AAP