Indonesia seeds clouds to keep them away from flooded capital

By Bernadette Christina and Jessica Damiana

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s air force seeded clouds with salt on Friday to try to stop rainfall reaching the slowing sinking capital after deadly flash floods and landslides triggered by some of the heaviest rain ever recorded.

The death toll in Jakarta and surrounding areas rose to 43 as of Friday, the disaster mitigation agency said, while tens of thousands of people have been displaced.

Indonesia’s technology agency BPPT and the air force carried out three rounds of cloud seeding on Friday, with more expected when needed, a BPPT official said.

The seeding, shooting salt flares in an attempt to trigger rainfall, is aimed at breaking up clouds before they reach Jakarta.

“We will do cloud seeding every day as needed,” BPPT chief Hammam Riza told reporters.

Cloud seeding is often used in Indonesia to put out forest fires during the dry season.

The floods followed torrential rains on Dec. 31 and into the early hours of New Year’s Day that inundated swathes of Jakarta and nearby towns, home to about 30 million people.

The deluge at the start of 2020 was “one of the most extreme rainfall” events since records began in 1866, the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said on Friday.

The agency said climate change had increased the risk of extreme weather and warned that heavy rainfall could last until mid-February, with Jan 11-15 an expected peak.

Television footage showed flood waters inundating parts of Southeast Asia’s largest city and mud-covered cars, some piled on top of each other.

President Joko Widodo blamed delays in flood control infrastructure projects for the disaster, including the construction of a canal that has been delayed since 2017 due to land acquisition problems.

Widodo last year announced he would move Indonesia’s capital to East Kalimantan province on Borneo island to reduce the burden on overpopulated Jakarta.

More than 50 people died in one of the capital’s deadliest floods in 2007 and five years ago much of the centre of the city was inundated after canals overflowed.

Jakarta is sinking by several cm a year in northern parts, an official said in October, due to extraction of groundwater over the years causing layers of rock and sediment to slowly pancake on top of each other.

(Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; editing by Nick Macfie)

Flood death toll rises to 26 in Jakarta, tens of thousands evacuated

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta on Thursday after flash floods and landslides killed up to 26 people amid some of the heaviest rain in more than 20 years, with more deluges forecast, authorities said.

The flooding, among the deadliest in years, caused chaos in parts of Southeast Asia’s biggest city with train lines blocked and power outages in some areas. Swathes of Jakarta and nearby towns were inundated after heavy rain fell on Dec. 31 and into the early hours of New Year’s Day.

Social affairs ministry data showed 26 people were killed in the flooding, up from the earlier toll of 21.

As of Thursday morning, over 62,000 people were evacuated in Jakarta alone, disaster mitigation agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said, although later in the day he told news channel Metro TV the number of evacuees were down to around 35,000 people.

Rainfall at an airport in East Jakarta measured at 377 millimeters (15 inches) early on Jan. 1, the highest daily reading during major floods since at least 1996, according to the Meteorology, Clilmatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

Umar Dani, 52, and his family were evacuated overnight from his home in East Jakarta on a rubber boat after water levels rose up to his neck.

“It has not flooded for so long here. We didn’t have the chance to bring anything,” he said.

“I have to live on the streets now.”

President Joko Widodo told reporters evacuation and safety measures should be prioritized and called for more coordination between city administrations and the central government.

On his Twitter page, Widodo blamed delays in flood control infrastructure projects for the flooding. He said some projects have been delayed since 2017 due to land acquisition problems.

“EXTREME WEATHER” EXPECTED

Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan said authorities deployed hundreds of pumps to suck water from residential areas across the capital, which had allowed some people to return home.

“They want to return home immediately and start cleaning up their houses as soon as they are able to enter their houses as water recedes,” Baswedan told reporters during a visit to a densely populated area in East Jakarta affected by the flood.

Residents waddled through murky water to see the governor while workers pumped water out of the area into a nearby river.

The mitigation agency said on its Twitter page that water levels have come down in a few affected areas, showing pictures of streets covered by mud and littered with debris.

Authorities however warned people to remain vigilant as “extreme weather” is expected to continue until Jan. 7.

Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), told reporters separately that heavy rainfall may continue until mid February.

Television footage on Thursday showed rescuers in the nearby city of Tangerang evacuating residents, guiding them across a strong current by holding on to a rope.

Jakarta and its surroundings are home to more than 30 million people. More than 50 people died in one of the capital’s deadliest floods in 2007 and five years ago much of the centre of the city was inundated after canals overflowed.

The government announced last year that it is relocating the capital to East Kalimantan province on Borneo, though the planning ministry pledged that the government will invest $40 billion in modernizing Jakarta.

(Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Kim Coghill, William Maclean)

Lion Air families told 737 MAX design flaws linked to deadly crash

Lion Air families told 737 MAX design flaws linked to deadly crash
By Jessica Damiana and Bernadette Christina Munthe

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Mechanical and design issues contributed to the crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX jet last October, Indonesian investigators told victims’ families in a briefing on Wednesday ahead of the release of a final report.

Contributing factors to the crash of the new Boeing jet, which killed all 189 on board, included incorrect assumptions on how an anti-stall device called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) functioned and how pilots would react, slides in the presentation showed.

The briefing slides showed that a lack of documentation about how systems would behave in a crash scenario, including the activation of a “stick shaker” device that warned pilots of a dangerous loss of lift, also contributed.

“Deficiencies” in the flight crew’s communication and manual control of the aircraft contributed as well, the slides showed, as did alerts and distractions in the cockpit.

The deficiencies had been “identified during training,” the slides said, without elaborating.

Reliance on a single angle-of-attack sensor made MCAS more vulnerable to failure, while the sensor on the plane that crashed had been miscalibrated during an earlier repair, according to the slides.

The final report will be released on Friday.

Some relatives of the victims at the briefing in Jakarta expressed disappointment that direct responsibility wasn’t assigned.

“Why isn’t the airline heavily sanctioned?” said Anton Sahadi, 30, whose relatives Riyan Aryandi and Muhammad Rafi Andrian were killed in the crash. “This isn’t about one or two lives, it’s about 189 lives.”

The role of the civil investigators is not to assign blame but to draw lessons that will make flying safer. Separate court actions will address who is legally responsible for the crash.

Ony Soerjo Wibowo, an investigator with Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) who delivered the briefing, declined to comment afterward. An agency representative also declined to comment.

A representative for Lion Air declined to comment.

A Boeing spokeswoman declined to comment on the briefing, saying: “As the report hasn’t been officially released by the authorities, it is premature for us to comment on its contents.”

The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide after a second deadly crash in Ethiopia in March 2019.

Planemaker Boeing is under growing pressure to explain what it knew about 737 MAX problems before the aircraft entered service.

Boeing has already said it would redesign the MCAS anti-stall system to rely on more than a single sensor and to help reduce pilot workload.

The planemaker is set to release third-quarter financial results on Wednesday.

LION AIR FLIGHT

Contact with Lion Air flight 610 was lost 13 minutes after it took off on Oct. 29 from the capital, Jakarta, heading north to the tin-mining town of Pangkal Pinang.

The Boeing 737 MAX airplane had suffered a sequence of problems in cockpit readings since Oct. 26, culminating in a decision to change the angle-of-attack sensor before the penultimate flight from Denpasar to Jakarta.

During the fatal night-time flight, a “stick shaker” was vibrating the captain’s controls, warning of a stall throughout most of the 13 minutes aloft, based on what investigators believe to have been erroneous data on the attitude of the wings relative to the direction of flight, called the angle of attack.

The angle must be controlled so that the aircraft’s wings maintain lift and avoid stalling, a condition in which a plane will begin to fall out of the sky.

The airplane’s anti-stall system repeatedly pushed the nose of the aircraft down, which is how pilots usually get air under the wings.

Boeing was widely criticized for placing emphasis on piloting and maintenance issues in its public response to an earlier report, sparking a furious dispute with Lion Air co-founder Rusdi Kirana.

The planemaker has since acknowledged that MCAS and a faulty angle of attack sensor played a role, and apologized for lives lost without admitting formal responsibility.

Boeing last month settled the first claims stemming from the Lion Air crash, a U.S. plaintiffs’ lawyer said.

Three other sources told Reuters the families of those killed will receive at least $1.2 million each.

The manufacturer faces nearly 100 lawsuits over the Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10, which killed all 157 people on board the flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi.

The 737 MAX was grounded following the second crash, leaving Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grappling to contain a crisis that has left 346 people dead, forced airlines to ground more than 300 aircraft, and put Boeing deliveries worth more than $500 billion on hold.

Boeing on Tuesday ousted the top executive of its commercial airplanes division, Kevin McAllister, marking the first high-level departure from the planemaker since two fatal crashes.

(Reporting by Jessica Damiana and Bernadette Christina Munthe; Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau and Tim Hepher; writing by Gerry Doyle; editing by Himani Sarkar and Jason Neely)

Quake hits sea off Indonesia, but tsunami warning lifted

A woman uses a phone as she leaves an office building, following an earthquake hit in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 2, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Dwi Prasetya/ via REUTERS

By Ed Davies and Jessica Damiana

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake struck off the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java on Friday, triggering a two-hour tsunami warning that sent coastal-dwellers fleeing to higher ground and panicking people in the capital Jakarta.

The U.S Geological Survey put the epicenter in the Indian Ocean about 227 km (141 miles) from Teluk Betung city on Sumatra with an initial magnitude of 7 that was later lowered to 6.8.

There appeared to be no major damage or casualties, but strong tremors were felt in Jakarta, the capital, prompting people to run out of office buildings.

“It was so scary,” said Gustiani Pratiwi, carrying two children out of an apartment block in Jakarta after feeling the quake strongly.

Indonesia is situated on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, which is frequently hit by earthquakes and sometimes accompanying tsunamis.

The most devastating in recent Indonesian history was on Dec. 26 in 2004, when a magnitude 9.5 quake triggered a massive tsunami that killed around 226,000 people along the shorelines of the Indian Ocean, including more than 126,000 in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s geophysics agency issued a warning of potential tsunami waves up to three meters (10 feet) but that was withdrawn once the risk was discounted.

TV footage showed passengers at Jakarta’s international airport rushing out of a terminal building, but authorities later said the airport was operating normally.

The quake could also be felt in other cities such as Yogyakarta on Java island.

One social media video showed panicked guests dashing out past a hotel swimming pool on Java island.

Last year, a tsunami hit the city of Palu in Sulawesi island, killing thousands, while a crater collapse at the Anak Krakatau volcano triggered a tsunami that killed at least 430 people in an area near the latest quake.

(Reporting by Ed Davies and Jessica Damiana; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Cawthorne)

Volcano-triggered tsunami kills at least 43 in Indonesia, injures hundreds

Residents sit inside a mosque as they evacuated following high waves and the eruption of Anak Krakatau volcano at Labuan district in Pandeglang regency, Banten province, Indonesia, December 22, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken December 22, 2018. Antara Foto/Muhammad Bagus Khoirunas/ via REUTERS

By Jessica Damiana

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A tsunami killed at least 43 people on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra and injured hundreds following an underwater landslide caused by a volcanic eruption, the disaster mitigation agency said on Sunday.

Some 584 people were injured and hundreds of homes and other buildings were “heavily damaged” in the tsunami which struck late on Saturday.

On Dec. 26 in 2004, an Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by an earthquake killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Endan Permana, head of the agency in Pandeglang, told Metro TV police were providing immediate assistance to victims in Tanjung Lesung in Banten province, a popular tourist getaway not far from the capital, Jakarta, as emergency workers had not arrived in the area yet.

“Many are missing,” Permana said.

The agency said it was still compiling information and there was a “possibility that data on the victims and damage will increase”.

The tsunami was caused by “an undersea landslide resulting from volcanic activity on Anak Krakatau” and was exacerbated by abnormally high tide because of the current full moon, disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

According to a statement from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Krakatau erupted at just after 9 p.m. and the tsunami struck at around 9.30 p.m. on Saturday.

“The tsunami hit several areas of the Sunda Strait, including beaches in Pandeglang regency, Serang, and South Lampung,” the agency said.

Nugroho told Metro TV that tsunamis triggered by volcanic eruptions were “rare” and that the Sunda Strait tsunami had not resulted from an earthquake.

“There was no earthquake, and the Anak Krakatau eruption also wasn’t that big,” Nugroho told Metro TV, noting there were no “significant” seismic tremors to indicate a tsunami was coming.

The Krakatau eruption created a column of volcanic ash estimated to be up 500 meters high.

(Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo, Tabita Diela and Jessica Damiana; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Indonesia extends search for victims of jet crash

An Indonesian National Transportation Safety Commission (KNKT) official examines a turbine engine from the Lion Air flight JT610 at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 4, 2018. Picture taken November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

By Agustins Beo Da Costa and Cindy Silviana

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia authorities extended on Wednesday a search for victims of a plane crash last week, when all 189 on board a Lion Air flight were killed, and for the aircraft’s second black box, the cockpit voice recorder.

The nearly new Boeing Co. 737 MAX passenger plane slammed into the sea on Oct. 29, only minutes after takeoff from Jakarta en route to Bangka island near Sumatra.

“We have extended the operation for three more days,” Muhammad Syaugi, the head of the national search and rescue agency (Basarnas), told Reuters.

It was the second time the search has been extended.

But he said search teams from the military, police and others would stand down, leaving just his agency to press on.

“This operation has been running for 10 days and the results from combing the sea surface and the seabed are declining, therefore the resources of Basarnas should be sufficient,” Syaugi told a news conference.

Basarnas had 220 personnel, including 60 divers, as well as four ships involved in the search and were focusing on an area with a radius of 250 meters (273 yards), he said.

A police official said 186 body bags containing human remains had been retrieved and 44 victims identified after forensic examination.

Authorities have downloaded data from one of the black boxes found last week, the flight data recorder, but are still looking for the cockpit voice recorder

A “ping” has been detected from the second black box but the signal was very weak, possibly because it was encased in mud,” said Nurcahyo Utomo, an air accident official at the transportation safety committee (KNKT).

A vessel capable of sucking up mud was likely to be brought in to help, he told a news conference.

Boeing said on Wednesday it had issued a safety bulletin reminding pilots how to handle erroneous data from a sensor in the wake of the Lion Air crash.

The U.S. planemaker said investigators looking into the Lion Air crash had found that one of the “angle of attack” sensors on the aircraft had provided erroneous data.

Experts say the angle of attack is a crucial parameter that helps the aircraft’s systems understand whether its nose is too high relative to the current of air – a phenomenon that can throw the plane into an aerodynamic stall and make it fall.

KNKT said that there was a problem with the sensor on the last flight taken by the doomed plane, from the island of Bali to Jakarta, even though one sensor had been replaced in Bali.

The KNKT has interviewed crew and technicians on duty for two previous flights, while also retrieving the faulty sensor from Bali for inspection.

KNKT is planning to simulate a flight to assess the impact of sensor damage at Boeing’s engineering simulator facility in Seattle.

(Additional reporting by Tabita Diela in JAKARTA, Tim Hepher in ZHUHAI and David Shepardson in WASHINGTON; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Tearful relatives of Indonesia jet crash victims demand answers

A man, who had family on the crashed Lion Air flight JT610, cries as he attends a news conference about the recovery process at a hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

By Cindy Silviana and Augustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Relatives of the victims of an Indonesian jet that crashed into the sea off Jakarta last week killing all 189 on board demanded answers on Monday as to why the plane had been passed fit to fly and called for no let up in the search for loved ones.

Indonesian authorities on Sunday extended by three days the search for victims and a second black box recorder from wreckage of a nearly new Boeing Co. 737 MAX that slammed into the sea a week ago only minutes after it took off from Jakarta.

At a news conference charged with emotion, relatives addressed questions to Indonesian officials including transport minister Budi Karya Sumadi and the head of the country’s transportation safety committee (KNKT).

“We are the victims here. Imagine if you were in our position,” said Najib Fuquoni, a relative of a victim, demanding an independent investigation into the crash.

Muhammad Bambang Sukandar, the father of another victim, said Lion Air technicians needed to take “full responsibility” if it was proved they had not properly attended to technical issues following the jet’s previous flight from Bali to Jakarta.

“This is not an unimportant thing. These are people’s lives,” he said, as he sought to choke back tears.

“Don’t let something like this keep happening in Indonesia,” he added.

Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, but its safety record has been patchy. Its transport safety panel investigated 137 serious aviation incidents from 2012 to 2017.

At one stage during Monday’s news conference, relatives urged Lion Air founder Rusdi Kirana, who was in the audience, to stand up. He stood up, but did not comment and clasped his hands together as if seeking forgiveness.

The privately owned budget carrier was founded in 1999. Its aircraft have been involved in at least 15 safety incidents and it has been placed under tougher international safety restrictions than other Indonesian airlines.

While victims’ relatives are desperate to know what happened, the first crash of a Boeing 737 MAX is also the focus of scrutiny by the global aviation industry.

“As an initial step we conducted ramp checks for 11 Boeing 737 Max 8,” said transport minister Sumadi, adding that authorities were also conducting a special audit to include operating procedures and crew qualifications.

The search effort has involved 151 divers, five helicopters, 61 ships, ranging from fishing boats to ships with advanced sonar scanners, as well as underwater drones.

An Indonesian rescue diver died during the search for a second black box, parts of the plane, and human remains on the muddy seabed.

The head of KNKT Surjanto Tjahjono has said 69 hours of recorded data from 19 flights, including the one that crashed, had been downloaded successfully from a partly damaged flight data recorder recovered on Thursday.

As of Monday, 138 body bags containing human remains had been recovered and handed to police for forensic identification, yet only 14 victims had been identified.

Among the larger parts of the plane found have been a mangled engine and a damaged aircraft wheel.

Tjahjono said based on initial analysis the “engine was running with fairly high speed” when it hit the water.

While there were no signs of an explosion in the air, the plane appeared to have hit the water with huge force, he said.

“When the plane hit the water, the energy released was extraordinarily large.”

(This story has been refiled to correct to “last week” in first paragraph, not “this week”)

(Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Exclusive: Pilot radioed alert on doomed Indonesian jet’s previous flight

A rescue helicopter as seen during rescue operations for Lion Air flight JT610 at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

By Gayatri Suroyo and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) – The pilot of a Lion Air flight from Indonesia’s Bali island on Sunday made a radio alert minutes after take-off due to technical problems, but they were overcome and he pushed on to Jakarta. The same jet crashed on another flight hours later, killing all 189 people on board.

Herson, chief of the airport authority for the Bali-Nusa Tenggara area, told Reuters that after the alert the pilot updated the control tower to say that the plane was flying normally and he would not return to the airport as requested.

“The captain himself was confident enough to fly to Jakarta from Denpasar,” said Herson, who goes by one name, speaking by phone from Bali and referring to the resort island’s airport.

The pilot of another plane that was approaching Bali just after the Lion Air jet had taken off said he was ordered to circle above the airport and listened in to a radio conversation between the Lion Air pilot and air traffic controllers.

“Because of the Pan-Pan call, we were told to hold off, circling the airport in the air,” said the pilot, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“The Lion plane requested to return back to Bali five minutes after take-off, but then the pilot said the problem had been resolved and he was going to go ahead to Jakarta.”

Pilots use ‘Pan-Pan’ calls to flag urgent situations. They are a step down from ‘Mayday’, which signals severe distress.

The Denpasar-Jakarta flight landed at the Indonesian capital’s airport at 10:55 p.m. local time on Sunday.

The same Boeing 737 MAX jet took off at 6:20 a.m. the next morning, bound for Bangka island, off Sumatra, and plunged into the sea 13 minutes later. Just before the crash, the pilot had made a request to return to base.

A Lion Air spokesman declined to comment when asked about the alert on the earlier flight, citing the ongoing crash investigation.

The budget airline’s CEO, Edward Sirait, said earlier this week that a technical problem had occurred on the Denpasar-Jakarta flight but it had been resolved “according to procedure”.

Amid media speculation over the airworthiness of the aircraft, the transport minister suspended Lion Air’s technical director and three other officers on Wednesday to facilitate the crash investigation.

The suspended technicians “issued the recommendations for that (final) flight”, the ministry said in a press release. It did not say how many technicians had been suspended.

The country’s second-deadliest air disaster since 1997 has renewed concern about Indonesia’s patchy aviation safety record.

It will also put a spotlight on Boeing’s 737 MAX, which was introduced into commercial service last year and until Monday had an accident-free record. The narrowbody MAX is an update of Boeing’s 737 series, the world’s most produced family of commercial aircraft and one widely considered to have a strong safety record.

ERRATIC FLIGHT

During its earlier flight from Bali on Sunday, JT43, the aircraft flew erratically and its airspeed readings were unreliable, according to an accident investigator and a flight tracking website.

According to data from FlightRadar24, the jet displayed unusual variations in altitude and airspeed in the first several minutes of flight – including an 875-foot drop over 27 seconds when it would normally be ascending – before stabilizing and flying on to Jakarta.

However, the pilots kept the plane at a maximum altitude of 28,000 feet compared with 36,000 feet on the same route earlier in the week.

National Transport Safety Committee (NTSC) deputy chief Haryo Satmiko told reporters on Tuesday there were technical problems on the flight, including unreliable airspeed readings.

Divers on Thursday retrieved a flight data recorder from the plane that lay shattered on the muddy seafloor off the coast of Jakarta. The NTSC said it would examine the device to get a clearer picture of what happened on the flight from Bali on Sunday in addition to the flight that crashed on Monday.

Herson, the airport authority chief in Bali, said the aircraft had encountered a “speed and altimeter” problem but the captain was confident that it was airworthy and pressed on.

“He requested to return to the airport for RTB (return to base) but … they updated and flew to Jakarta. The pilot double-checked to ensure that they could fly,” he said.

Two passengers from Sunday’s flight posted on Instagram, reporting that they had been concerned about problems with the air conditioning system and cabin lighting before the plane left Bali nearly three hours late.

Another passenger on JT43 described, in a talk show broadcast by Indonesia’s TVOne, a turbulent flight during which the seatbelt signs were never turned off.

“When the plane took off, it climbed and then went down. It rose again, and then dropped again violently, shaking,” said Diah Mardani. “Everyone in the plane shouted Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest), Subhanallah (Glory to God). We recited every prayer we knew.”

(Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Indonesian searchers find black box from crashed jet on sea floor

Chief of National Search and Rescue Agency Muhammad Syaugi shows a part of the black box of Lion Air's flight JT610 airplane, on Baruna Jaya ship, in the north sea of Karawang, Indonesia, November 1, 2018. Antara Foto/Muhammad Adimaja via REUTERS

By Cindy Silviana and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian authorities on Thursday retrieved a flight data recorder from a Lion Air jet that crashed and broke apart in shallow sea near the capital, Jakarta, this week, killing all 189 people on board.

The country’s second-deadliest air disaster since 1997 has prompted renewed concern about Indonesia’s patchy aviation safety record, and the government has said Lion Air will face tougher safety regulation.

Investigations into the world’s first crash of a Boeing Co 737 MAX, introduced into commercial service last year, will be scrutinized by the global aviation industry.

“Hopefully, this can unveil the mystery behind the plane crash,” Indonesia’s transportation safety committee chief Soerjanto Tjahjono told a news conference at Jakarta’s main port after receiving the device, known as a black box.

The data it holds should provide clues to what went wrong with the plane, which had only been in service since August.

It lost contact with ground staff just 13 minutes after taking off early on Monday from Jakarta, on its way to the tin-mining town of Pangkal Pinang.

The pilot had asked to return to base shortly after take-off, and ground control officials had approved the request.

A navy diver told broadcaster Metro TV on board a search vessel his team found the orange-colored box intact in debris on the muddy seafloor.

Indonesia’s transportation safety committee (KNKT) will analyze its data in Jakarta, which could take up to two weeks.

Searchers have yet to find the second black box containing recordings of cockpit conversations. Strong currents have hampered search efforts, complicated by the presence of energy pipelines in the area.

The discovery of the black box may provide some relief to grieving relatives. But hopes are fading of finding a large section of fuselage intact with bodies, easily retrievable, inside.

The commander of the navy divers involved in the search was quoted by the Kompas.com news portal as saying divers had found many bodies. But only one has been identified.

“What is important for us is to get more information about the victims because having their remains back is important for us so we can bury them properly,” said Ade Inyo, whose brother in law was on the flight.

MORE INSPECTIONS, SAFETY REVIEW

The investigation will be carried out with help from Boeing, General Electric and the Federal Aviation Federation, officials have said.

It will also focus on four of Lion Air’s staff including its technical director who were suspended by Indonesia’s transportation ministry on Wednesday amid speculation the aircraft was not airworthy.

“For now, we will focus on two primary causes,” KNKT deputy chief Haryo Satmiko told Reuters, referring to equipment and the people who flew, maintained and managed the aircraft.

The transport ministry suspended for 120 days Lion Air’s maintenance and engineering director, fleet maintenance manager and the release engineer who gave the jet permission to fly on Monday, it said in a press release.

Founded in 1999, the privately owned budget carrier’s aircraft have been involved in at least 15 safety incidents and it has faced tougher international safety restrictions than other Indonesian airlines.

It will now be subjected to more intensive “on-ramp” inspections compared with other airlines, authorities said.

President Joko Widodo has also ordered a review of all regulations relating to flight safety.

Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets. Its transportation safety committee investigated 137 serious aviation incidents from 2012 to 2017.

Lion Air said the aircraft that crashed had been airworthy and the pilot and co-pilot had 11,000 hours of flying time between them.

But according to the transport safety committee, the plane had technical problems on its previous flight on Sunday, from the city of Denpasar on the resort island of Bali, including an issue over “unreliable airspeed”.

Lion Air chief executive Edward Sirait has acknowledged reports of technical problems with the aircraft but said maintenance had been carried out “according to procedure” before it was cleared to fly again.

Lion Air’s only other fatal accident was in 2004 when an MD-82 crashed upon landing at Solo City, killing 25 of the 163 people on board, according to the Flight Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety Network.

In April, the airline announced a firm order to buy 50 Boeing 737 MAX 10 narrowbody jets with a list price of $6.24 billion. It is one of the U.S. planemaker’s largest customers globally and was the first carrier globally to take delivery of the 737 MAX last year.

(Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Writing by Fergus Jensen and Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Doomed Indonesian plane with 189 on board had asked to return to base

Relatives of passengers of Lion Air, flight JT610, that crashed into the sea cry at Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang, Belitung island, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. Antara Foto/Hadi Sutrisno via REUTERS

By Fergus Jensen and Tommy Ardiansyah

PAKISJAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) – An Indonesian aircraft with 189 people on board crashed into the sea on Monday as it tried to circle back to the capital, Jakarta, from where it had taken off minutes earlier, and there were likely no survivors, officials said.

Lion Air flight JT610, an almost new Boeing 737 MAX 8, was en route to Pangkal Pinang, capital of the Bangka-Belitung tin mining region. Rescue officials said they had recovered some human remains from the crash site, about 15 km (9 miles) off the coast.

People watch rescue team members on a boat before they head to the Lion Air, flight JT610, sea crash location in the north coast of Karawang regency, West Java province, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

People watch rescue team members on a boat before they head to the Lion Air, flight JT610, sea crash location in the north coast of Karawang regency, West Java province, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, but its safety record is patchy. If all aboard have died, the crash will be the country’s second-worst air disaster since 1997, industry experts said.

The pilot had asked to return to base (RTB) after the plane took off from Jakarta. It lost contact with ground staff after 13 minutes.

“An RTB was requested and had been approved but we’re still trying to figure out the reason,” Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesia’s transport safety committee, told reporters, referring to the pilot’s request.

“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.

Search and rescue agency head Muhmmad Syaugi told a news conference that no distress signal had been received from the aircraft’s emergency transmitter.

Yusuf Latief, spokesman of national search and rescue agency, said there were likely no survivors.

 

Rescue workers stand next to body bags at the port of Tanjung Priok, that are believed to be from Lion Air flight JT610, that took off from Jakarta and crashed into the sea, in Jakarta, Indonesia October 29, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. Basarnas/via REUTERS

Rescue workers stand next to body bags at the port of Tanjung Priok, that are believed to be from Lion Air flight JT610, that took off from Jakarta and crashed into the sea, in Jakarta, Indonesia October 29, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. Basarnas/via REUTERS

At least 23 government officials, four employees of state tin miner PT Timah and three employees of a Timah subsidiary, were on the plane. A Lion Air official said one Italian passenger and one Indian pilot were on board.

Edward Sirait, chief executive of Lion Air Group, told reporters the aircraft had had a technical problem on a flight from the resort island of Bali to Jakarta but it had been “resolved according to procedure”.

Sirait declined to specify the nature of the issue but said none of its other aircraft of that model had the same problem. Lion had operated 11 Boeing 737 MAX 8s and it had no plan to ground the rest of them, he said.

The accident is the first to be reported involving the widely sold Boeing 737 MAX, an updated, more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer’s workhorse single-aisle jet.

Privately owned Lion Air said the aircraft had been in operation since August, was airworthy, with its pilot and co-pilot together having accumulated 11,000 hours of flying time.

‘BE PATIENT’

The plane went down in waters about 30 meters to 35 meters (98 to 115 ft) deep.

Relatives of passengers of the Lion Air plane that crashed into the sea are seen at Depati Amir airport in Pangkal Pinang, Belitung island, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. Antara Foto/Hadi Sutrisno via REUTERS

Relatives of passengers of the Lion Air plane that crashed into the sea are seen at Depati Amir airport in Pangkal Pinang, Belitung island, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. Antara Foto/Hadi Sutrisno via REUTERS

Bambang Suryo, operational director of the search and rescue agency, said about 150 rescuers and 40 divers were on the site, using an underwater drone to search for the fuselage, where many of the victims were believed to be trapped.

“We need to find the main wreckage,” he told reporters.

Another agency official, Deden Ridwansyah, said authorities were focusing on an area about 1 nautical mile in radius based on debris found on the water and floodlights would be used to search through the night.

The flight took off in clear weather at around 6.20 a.m. and was due to have landed in Pangkal Pinang at 7.20 a.m.

Distraught relatives of those on board arrived at the airport in Jakarta and Pangkal Pinang.

“Be patient, pray the best for papa,” one woman arriving at Jakarta airport told a sobbing girl.

The woman declined to speak to reporters.

President Joko Widodo told a news conference authorities were focusing on the search and rescue, and he called for the country’s prayers and support.

Boeing was deeply saddened by the loss, it said in a statement, and was ready to provide technical assistance for the investigation.

Under international rules, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board will automatically assist with the inquiry, backed up by technical advisers from Boeing and U.S.-French engine maker CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and Safran.

Data from FlightRadar24 shows the first sign of something amiss was around two minutes into the flight, when the plane had reached 2,000 feet (610 m).

It descended more than 500 feet (152 m) and veered to the left before climbing again to 5,000 feet (1,524 m), where it stayed during most of the rest of the flight.

It began gaining speed in the final moments and reached 345 knots (397 mph) before data was lost when it was at 3,650 feet (1,113 m).

Indonesia’s worst air disaster was in 1997, when a Garuda Indonesia A300 crashed in the city of Medan, killing 214 people.

Founded in 1999, Lion Air’s only fatal accident was in 2004, when an MD-82 crashed upon landing at Solo City, killing 25 of the 163 on board, the Flight Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety Network says.

In April, the airline announced a firm order to buy 50 Boeing 737 MAX 10 narrowbody jets with a list price of $6.24 billion. It is one of the U.S. planemaker’s largest customers globally.

(Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Cindy Silviana, Gayatri Suroyo and Fransiska Nangoy, Bernadette Christina in JAKARTA, Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE and Tim Hepher in HONG KONG; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)