JAKARTA, Indonesia – A Lion Air Boeing 737 passenger plane with 188 people on board has crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
Flight JT 610 was on a scheduled flight to Pangkal Pinang, the main town in the Bangka Belitung Islands.
It lost contact with ground control a few minutes after take-off, and was last tracked crossing the sea – it is unclear if there are any survivors.
The plane was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, a brand new type of aircraft.
“The plane crashed into water about 30 to 40m deep,” Search and Rescue Agency spokesman Yusuf Latif told AFP news agency.
“We’re still searching for the remains of the plane.”
At a news conference, officials said the plane had been carrying 178 adults, one infant and two babies, as well as two pilots and five cabin crew. However, there are conflicting reports on the exact number of people on board.
Flight JT 610 took off from Jakarta at 06:20 local time on Monday morning (23:30 GMT on Sunday).
The pilot had asked to return to Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport, the head of Pangkal Pinang’s search and rescue office, Danang Priandoko, told local news outlet Kompas.
The head of Indonesia’s disaster agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, has tweeted images which he said showed debris and personal belongings that came from the aircraft and had been found floating in the sea.
He also shared a video he said had been taken from a tugboat off Karawang, just east of Jakarta, which appeared to show floating debris and an oil slick.
What do we know about this aircraft?
Lion Air said in a statement to the BBC that the pilot of the crashed plane was experienced, with more than 6,000 flight hours.
The aircraft was reported to be a Boeing 737 MAX 8, a model only in commercial use since 2016.
Lion Air said the aircraft involved in the crash was made in 2018 and has only been operated by the airline since 15 August this year.
Meant for short-haul travel, the single-aisle plane can fit a maximum of 210 passengers.
How is Lion Air’s safety record?
Indonesia, a vast archipelago, is heavily reliant on air travel, but many of its airlines have a poor safety record.
Lion Air is Indonesia’s largest low-cost carrier, operating flights domestically as well as a number of international routes in South East Asia, Australia and the Middle East.
Established in 1999, it has had issues of safety and poor management in the past and was banned from flying into European airspace until 2016.
In 2013, Lion Air flight 904 crashed into the sea on landing at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport. All 108 people on board survived. In 2004, flight 538 from Jakarta crashed and broke upon landing at Solo City, killing 25 people.
In 2011 and 2012 there was a spate of incidents where pilots were found in possession of methamphetamines, in one incident hours before a flight.