Debris found in search for missing flight
Sriwijaya Air flight SJ182 is believed to have crashed shortly after taking off from Jakarta, according to Indonesia's Head Of National Transportation Safety Committee, Suryanto Cahyono.
'Suspected debris' has now been found in the search for the missing flight, which dropped off the radar above the Java Sea. The Boeing 737-500 aircraft flying from Jakarta to Pontianak, on the island of Borneo, last had contact with the control tower at 2.40pm local time (6.40pm AEDT).
A search and rescue operation has been launched for the 26-year-old aircraft, which had 50 passengers — 43 adults and 7 children — as well as 12 crew members on board. It's not known if any Australian were on the flight.
Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) official Major General Bambang Suryo Aji said at a press conference that their officers on the ground are finding debris around Lancang Island — located in chain of islands to the north of Jakarta's coast — where the plane lost contact.
"We have found debris which is suspected to be from the missing Sriwijaya flight, which we have now seized," he said.
"But we are currently facing an issue of visibility because it's night time.
"We will try our best to find the exact location and coordinates of where the flight fell and tomorrow morning, and can continue the search in our maximum capacity."
The debris will be passed to the National Transportation Safety Committee to be investigated, he said, adding that is not confirmed if that debris belongs to the missing plane.
Local media reports said fishermen spotted metal objects believed to be parts of a plane this afternoon in the Thousand Islands region.
A local fisherman who goes by the name Solihin, told BBC's Indonesian service he witnessed a crash from his boat, with his captain deciding to return to land as a result.
"The plane fell like lightning into the sea and exploded in the water," he told BBC. "It was pretty close to us, the shards of a kind of plywood almost hit my ship."
While a security official, told CNN Indonesia they "found some cables, a piece of jeans, and pieces of metal on the water".
Television footage showed relatives and friends of people aboard the plane weeping, praying and hugging each other as they waited at Jakarta's airport and Pontianak's airport.
A crisis centre has been set up at Soekarna-Hatta International Airport.
"At this point, we are investigating and coordinating the matter with Basarnas (the search and rescue agency) and KNKT (the transport safety body)," Indonesian Transportation Ministry spokesperson Adita Irawati told South China Morning Post's This Week in Asia.
"We will release more information as soon as there are developments."
In a statement, Sriwijaya Air said that they were "in contact with various related parties to get more detailed information" regarding the incident and that they will "immediately issue an official statement" when more information was clear.
SJ182 took off from Jakarta at 1.56pm WIT(3.56pm AEDT) and just four minutes later, the aircraft lost more than 10,000 feet (3000m) altitude in less than one minute, according to plane tracker FlightRadar24.
The airline lost contact 11 nautical miles north of Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport at an altitude of 11,000 feet (3352m) while climbing to 13,000 feet (3962m), according to state-run Antara news agency.
Indonesia's search and rescue agency, Basarnas, has sent a ship to the Thousands Islands — a chain of islands to the north of Jakarta's coast — to check the location where the plane is suspected to have lost contact, Indonesia's Head Of National Transportation Safety Committee, Suryanto Cahyono said.
A Boeing spokesperson told CNN in a statement that they are "aware of media reports from Jakarta, and are closely monitoring the situation."
"We are working to gather more information," they said.
The Transport Ministry said it is investigating and coordinating with Basarnas and the National Committee for Transport Safety.
Sriwijaya Air, a low-cost airline and Indonesia's third largest carrier, transports more than 950,000 passengers per month from its Jakarta hub to 53 destinations within Indonesia and three regional countries, according to the company's website.
The airline has had a handful of other incidents in the past, including a plane crash in August 2008, which killed one person.
The Boeing 737-200 crashed into a house with three residents inside when it skidded off the runway in Jambi, according to Tribunnews.
There were reportedly 26 people injured, one of whom later succumbed to their injuries. A hydraulics malfunction led to the aircraft's failure to stop, according to the final report.
And in 2012, a Jakarta to Pontianak flight veered off the runway in heavy rain and came to a stop on it's belly in soft ground, requiring an excavator and cranes to remove the aircraft. No-one was injured in the incident.
In June 2018, it was removed from the European Union's list of banned air carriers, 11 years after it was placed on that list.
- Reported with Associated Press and CNN