Jakarta (AFP) – An Indonesian Lion Air plane carrying 188 passengers and its crew crashed into the sea on Monday, officials said shortly after asking to be allowed to return to Jakarta.
The aircraft disappeared from the radar barely 13 minutes after taking off from the Indonesian capital, plunging into the ocean.
The spokesman of the Agency for Search and Rescue, Yusuf Latif, said the authorities were still searching for the remains of the plane, which had lost touch with air traffic control around 6.30 am (2330 GMT), en route to Pangkal Pinang, on the island of Bangka.
"The plane crashed into the water at a depth of about 30 to 40 meters," he told AFP.
Sindu Rahayu, director general of civil aviation Ministry of Transport, said the plane was carrying 178 adult passengers, one child and two babies, as well as two pilots and five flight attendants.
"The plane had asked to return to the base before disappearing from the radar," he added.
The Flightradar website followed the plane – a Boeing 737 – and showed it looping southward on takeoff then to the north before the flight path abruptly ended above the sea from Java, not far from the coast.
– Bad safety record –
Indonesia relies heavily on air transport to connect its thousands of islands, but its record in aviation safety is mediocre and has suffered several fatalities in recent years.
A 12 year old boy was the only survivor of a plane crash that had killed eight people in the mountains of eastern Indonesia in August.
In August 2015, a commercial transport aircraft operated by the Indonesian airline Trigana crashed in Papua due to bad weather, killing 54 people.
In 2014, an AirAsia plane crashed, resulting in the deaths of 162 people.
The Indonesian investigators' final report showed that a chronically flawed steering control system component, poor maintenance, and inadequate pilot response were major factors in what was supposed to be a routine flight between Surabaya, a city in Indonesia. and Singapore.
Lion Air, a low-cost airline, has been involved in several incidents.
Last year, one of his Boeing collided with a Wings Air plane while he was landing at Kualanamu Airport on the island of Sumatra without to make injured.
In May 2016, two Lion Air aircraft collided at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta Airport, while a month earlier, an aircraft operated by Batik Air – a Lion Group company – had cut a TransNusa plane.
In 2013, a Lion Air jet with a novice pilot flying under the runway and crashed into the sea in Bali, separating the plane in two. Several people were injured in the accident, but no one was killed.
The airline industry in Indonesia is booming as the number of domestic passengers has increased significantly over the past decade, but has gained a reputation for being poorly regulated.
Last year, the Indonesian Association of Air Traffic Controllers revealed that the number of take-offs and landings allowed in Jakarta by the public air navigation company AirNav was higher than the airport could handle, thus increasing the risks of accidents.
In the past, the country's air carriers have been banned from entering the airspace of the European Union and the United States for years.