The Lion Air Boeing 737 crashed into the sea off the Indonesian coast shortly after take-off from Jakarta this morning, according to SARA.
“The plane crashed into water about 30 to 40 metres deep,” agency spokesman Yusuf Latif told media.
The aircraft lost contact with air traffic control around 6:30am, about 13 minutes after it took off, bound for Pangkal Pinang on the island of Bangka off the coast of Sumatra island.
The National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) said there were 178 adult passengers, one child, two infants, two pilots and six cabin crew on board flight JT 610.
The transport ministry had initially said there was a total of 188 people on board. The finance ministry said around 20 of its employees were on the plane.
“My prediction is that nobody survived because the victims that we found, their bodies were no longer intact and it’s been hours so it is likely 189 people have died,” agency operational director Bambang Suryo Aji told reporters.
Indonesia’s disaster agency posted photos online of a crushed smartphone, books, bags and parts of the aircraft fuselage that had been collected by search and rescue vessels that had converged on the area.
It was not immediately clear if any foreigners were on the downed plane, which Lion said was a new, airworthy plane that had only gone into service in August.
The pilot and co-pilot had more than 11,000 hours of flying time between them, it added.
“Lion Air is very concerned about this incident and will work with relevant agencies and all parties,” said spokesman Danang Mandala Prihantoro.
“It’s true that Lion Air JT 610 has lost contact. We have forwarded the information to search and rescue teams,” AirNav Indonesia Spokesman Yohanes Harry Douglas had said in a statement earlier today.
Indonesian TV showed dozens of people waiting anxiously outside the Pangkal Pinang airport and officials bringing out plastic chairs. The transport ministry said crisis centres have been set up Pangkal Pinang’s airport and Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta airport.
Flightradar said it was a Boeing 737. The website tracked the plane, showing it looping south on take-off and then heading north before the flight path ended abruptly over the Java Sea, not far from the coast.
Indonesia relies heavily on air transport to connect its thousands of islands but has a poor aviation safety record and has suffered several fatal crashes in recent years. A 12-year-old boy was the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed eight people in mountainous eastern Indonesia in August.
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.
Lion Air, a low-cost airline, has been involved a number of incidents. Last year one of its Boeing jets collided with a Wings Air plane as it landed at Kualanamu airport on the island of Sumatra, although no one was injured.
In May 2016, two Lion Air planes collided at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport, while a month earlier a plane operated by Batik Air — part of the Lion Group — clipped a TransNusa plane.
In 2013, a Lion Air jet with a rookie pilot at the controls undershot the runway and crashed into the sea in Bali, splitting the plane in two. Several people were injured in the crash, although no one was killed.
Indonesia’s air travel industry is booming, with the number of domestic passengers growing significantly over the past decade, but it has acquired a reputation for poor regulation. Last year the Indonesian air traffic controllers association revealed that the rate of take-off and landings in Jakarta allowed by state-run air navigation company AirNav was more than the airport could handle, increasing the chance of accidents.