A rescue ship is seen near the location of the Lion Air flight JT-610 crash during rescue operations off the north coast of Karawang district, West Java, on Tuesday. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Divers to Check if 'Ping' Signals Reveal Location of Crashed Lion Air Plane


OCTOBER 31, 2018

Jakarta. Divers were deployed to scour the sea around the crash site of Lion Air flight JT-610 on Wednesday, after picking up a signal searchers believe reveals the plane's location in waters east of Jakarta.

Air traffic control lost contact with the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft with 189 people on board, about 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta on Monday morning, on its way to Pangkal Pinang, Bangka-Belitung.

Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Air Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto said on Wednesday that he believed the plane had been located, and a transportation safety official said divers would be sent to confirm a "ping" signal picked up by a search and rescue team late on Tuesday.

"We strongly believe that we have found a part of the fuselage of JT-610," Hadi told TV One, adding that the search team had the location coordinates but now had to confirm that it was the plane.

Indonesia has deployed "pinger locators" in the hunt for the plane's black boxes, as the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder are known, at the crash site.

"Yesterday afternoon, the team had heard a 'ping' sound in a location at a depth of 35 meters," National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) deputy chief Haryo Satmiko told Reuters.

"This morning, at 5 a.m., the team has gone back to dive at the location."

A member of the Indonesian Navy dives at the location of the Lion Air flight JT-610 crash off the north coast of Karawang district, West Java, on Tuesday. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Although it is now almost certain that everyone on the plane died, relatives are desperate to find traces of their loved ones, with only debris and body parts found so far.

"I keep praying for a miracle, although, logically, the plane has sunk in the ocean," said Toni Priyono Adhi, whose daughter was aboard. "But as a parent, I want a miracle."

Dozens of relatives of the missing gathered at a police hospital in East Jakarta, where body bags had been brought for forensic experts to try and identify victims, with techniques such as taking swabs of saliva from families for DNA tests.

Teams of divers have fanned out in the search for the black boxes in the effort to learn why an almost-new plane went down minutes after takeoff.

The search widened on Wednesday to cover 15 nautical miles (27 km) around the area where the plane lost contact, a search and rescue officer said, increasing from 10 nautical miles (18 km) on Tuesday.

About 60 divers entered the sea on Tuesday from inflatable boats scattered over the slightly choppy waters, about 35 meters deep, a Reuters witness on a boat at the crash site said. A total of 35 vessels have been drafted into the search.

Only debris, personal items, including 52 identification cards and passports, and body parts have been found so far.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo visited Tanjung Priok Port in North Jakarta to examine items in a pile of debris laid out on tarpaulins, from mangled seats and flight attendants' uniforms to bags and shoes.

Officials said human remains were collected in 37 body bags after sweeps of the site, about 15 kilometers off the coast of Karawang district, West Java.

Officials carry a body bag off an ambulance to be identified by disaster victim identification officers at Bhayangkara R. Said Sukanto Hospital in East Jakarta on Tuesday. (Reuters Photo/Willy Kurniawan)

Investigators are looking into why the pilot of the downed aircraft had asked to return to base shortly after takeoff, a request that ground control officials had granted, although the flight crashed soon after.

A KNKT official has said the plane had technical problems on its previous flight on Sunday, from Denpasar, Bali, including an issue over "unreliable airspeed."

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 single-aisle jet.

Privately owned Lion Air, founded in 1999, said the aircraft had been in operation since August and was airworthy, with its pilot and co-pilot having 11,000 hours of flying time between them.

The airline is to meet a team from Boeing on Wednesday to discuss the fate of its 737 MAX 8 planes.

"We have many questions for them," Lion Air director Daniel Putut told reporters on Tuesday. "This was a new plane."