Indonesia has ordered an inspection of all Boeing 737 Max 8 planes belonging to national commercial airlines, a day after Lion Air flight 610 crashed into the sea minutes after takeoff from the capital Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.
Speaking to CNN by phone Tuesday, transportation ministry official Capt. Avirianto said Lion Air currently has 11 of the models in its fleet while national carrier Garuda Indonesia has one.
“We have inspected Garuda last night while Lion is still in progress,” he said, adding that the ministry hopes to inspect at least three of Lion Air’s planes Tuesday night and the other eight soon.
It is unclear whether the Garuda aircraft passed the inspection.
The managing director of Lion Air group, Daniel Putut Adi Kuncoro, confirmed to CNN that the transport ministry was carrying out the inspections. “We are waiting for their results,” he said. “We will follow what the regulator tells us to do.”
Search-and-rescue operations expanded to at least 400 square nautical miles Tuesday, with divers working to bring passenger remains out of the water and investigators examining fragments of debris scattered over a large expanse of sea.
The aircraft’s fuselage and flight data recorders are yet to be recovered. They should provide more evidence about what caused the flight to crash about 13 minutes after taking off on a routine flight expected to take just over an hour.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo joined search teams at Tanjung Priok port Tuesday, where remains and debris recovered from the crash site have been unloaded.
What we know
- Plane went down at around 6:30 am local time Monday, en route from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang
- Indonesian authorities believe all 189 people on board were killed
- So-called “black box” flight recorder has yet to be found
- Flight crew reported an issue with the plane the night before the flight, repairs were carried out
Police said late Monday that 24 body bags had been transferred from the crash to a local hospital for post mortem. DNA samples have been taken from 132 family members of passengers on board to help with identification, but the Jakarta police commissioner warned this could be difficult, and each body bag so far transferred could contain the remains of more than one person.
At a press conference Tuesday, Muhammad Syaugi of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency said the identification process was proceeding as quickly as possible, but warned it was unlikely the remains of all passengers would be found.
Cause of crash remains a mystery
The plane, a new Boeing 737 MAX 8, was carrying 181 passengers, as well as six cabin crew members and two pilots, bound for Pangkal Pinang on the Indonesian island of Bangka.
It made a request to air traffic control to return to the airport around 19 kilometers (12 miles) after takeoff, but did not indicate there was any emergency.
Radar data did not show that the plane had turned back, and air traffic controllers lost contact with it soon after, Yohanes Sirait, spokesman for AirNav Indonesia, the agency that oversees air traffic navigation, told CNN.
David Soucie, a former safety inspector with the US Federal Aviation Administration, said the fact that an emergency wasn’t declared should be a cause for concern.
“What’s most peculiar to me is the fact that they didn’t declare an emergency. They just simply said, ‘we’re going back’,” said Soucie, a CNN safety analyst.
“But when I look at the track of the aircraft after that, the aircraft made a very steep dive after that which is not typical of what they would’ve done,” he added. “They would have maintained altitude and made that turn and come back to (the airport).”
The plane had reported problems the night before on a flight to Denpasar to Jakarta, but engineers had checked and repaired the issue and given the plane clearance to fly, Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait told local media.
AirNav Indonesia said the flight would have been given a priority landing spot had it declared an emergency.
“Something happened to lose control of that aircraft,” Soucie said.
He ruled out weather as a cause of the crash, however, since the plane did not appear to attempt to turn back towards Jakarta. “That says that something abrupt and very fast happened to the aircraft.”
Though the flight data recorder and voice cockpit recorder – the so-called “black boxes” – have yet to be recovered, Soucie warned that the emergency locator transmitters on the black boxes are somewhat unreliable, and could be undetectable, as they were with the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
“When that aircraft goes down, the first thing you find is those boxes, and if the signal that tells where they are isn’t working or is not designed properly, that’s a big problem,” he said. “It’s again more of a systemic problem than it is a particular aircraft.”
Black boxes typically provide information on the causes of the crash and final minutes of the flight.
Lion Air acquired the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet in August and it had only flown 800 hours, according to Indonesia’s National Transport Safety Committee (NTSC).
The aircraft is one of Boeing’s newest and most-advanced jets, one of 11 such planes in Lion Air’s fleet. In a statement, Boeing said the company was “deeply saddened” by the loss and offered “heartfelt sympathies” to passengers and crew on board, and their families.
Soucie said 800 hours was plenty of time “to get this tried-and-true.”
He added the MAX 8 was “the top of the line, it’s one of the best you can buy … I don’t see anything coming back towards maintenance on this issue or the flight of the aircraft itself.”
CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz agreed that the loss of such a new aircraft was “highly unusual.”
But because the Lion Air jet’s pilot and co-pilot were experienced – 6,000 and 5,000 flight hours respectively – and weather did not seem to be a factor, investigators would be focusing on the aircraft, said Goelz, a former chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board.
’I have to be strong’
Agency staff are going through personal items recovered from the crash site, including passports, wallets and IDs. Images show a child’s bright red Hello Kitty money pouch among items retrieved from the sea.
More remains and debris were unloaded at the Tanjung Priok port late Tuesday afternoon local time, where Indonesia’s Transport Minister, Budi Karya Sumadi, joined search teams in examining the material.
One family member, 14-year-old Keshia Aurelia, was in high school when she heard the news her mother Fifi Hajanto had been on the plane when it went down.
“We cried a lot in (the crisis center) while we were waiting