JAKARTA, Indonesia — A plane carrying 189 people from Jakarta to a smaller Indonesian city crashed into the Java Sea on Monday, prompting hard questions about the safety of the skies over a vast island nation dependent on air travel.
Lion Air Flight 610 was flying north from the capital, Jakarta, to the city of Pangkal Pinang on the island of Bangka when it went missing minutes after takeoff, officials said. The National Search and Rescue Agency said that a tugboat crew saw the plane crash in Karawang Bay northeast of Jakarta and that skies were clear.
By Monday afternoon, officials speculated that no one had survived. "I suspect all the passengers are dead," said Marine Brig. Gen. Bambang Suryo, director of operations for the search and rescue agency.
Air Marshal Muhammad Syauqi, chief of the search and rescue agency, said that a team of 30 divers was searching for the plane’s black boxes, a critical piece of evidence for determining the cause of the crash.
No explosion was heard by witnesses as the plane hurtled into the sea, Syauqi said, presumably eliminating the possibility that a bomb had caused the crash.
Yohanes Sirait, a spokesman for the country’s air navigation authorities, said that the aircraft crew had requested permission to turn around minutes after takeoff.
"The request was permitted," Sirait said. "Then we lost contact. It was very quick, maybe around one minute."
The final contact with the plane was within 15 minutes of the flight taking off from Jakarta.
The crash is another setback for Indonesia’s fast-growing aviation sector, which has been troubled for years by safety problems but had recently shown signs of progress. In June, the European Union lifted a ban on Indonesian airlines that it had imposed in 2007, citing "unaddressed safety concerns." The state carrier, Garuda, and three other airlines were cleared in 2009.
Indonesian officials said a search and rescue effort was underway for the Boeing 737 MAX 8, which departed Jakarta at 6:21 a.m. Monday. The aviation website Flight Tracker said the flight had been scheduled to arrive at 7:20 a.m. in Pangkal Pinang, on an island off Sumatra.
The 178 passengers included three children, 20 officials from the country’s Ministry of Finance and 10 more from the state auditor agency,. An Indian pilot was among the seven crew members and an Italian passenger was also onboard.