Relatives of passengers of Lion Air flight JT-610 look at victims' belongings at Tanjung Priok Port in North Jakarta on Wednesday. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

In Bangka-Belitung, Lion Air Plane Crash Leaves Deep Scars

OCTOBER 31, 2018

Pangkal Pinang. As Indonesia struggles to determine why an airliner crashed this week with the loss of all 189 people on board, there is nowhere the impact of its second-worst air disaster has been felt as deeply as the sleepy, palm-fringed Bangka-Belitung Islands.

Lion Air flight JT-610, an almost new Boeing 737 MAX 8, was en route from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang, the center of the country's tin-mining region, on Monday when it crashed into the sea soon after takeoff.

"Bangka-Belitung has never suffered from a crash like this before," said Krisna Wiryawan, head of the city's tax office. Seven of his 92 employees were on the doomed flight.

"We're feeling deeply hurt," Krisna said, speaking at his desk inside the slightly shabby, red-tiled tax building, with rows of flowers carrying condolence messages lined up outside.

Indonesian flags on government offices in Pangkal Pinang were at half-mast this week to honor the victims.

The tax office suffered disproportionate losses since many of its workers commute from Jakarta, and Krisna himself said he often took that flight.

Staff regularly used Lion Air or other budget airlines, rather than national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, for cost reasons, particularly if using personal expenses, Krisna said.

According to data compiled by state insurer Jasa Raharja, out of the 189 people on board flight JT-610, at least 45 were residents of these islands of 1.4 million inhabitants that rely on mining, agriculture, fishing and a small tourism sector.

Indonesia is the world's biggest tin exporter thanks to the rich seams of ore in the Bangka-Belitung Islands, though this has come at a price with unregulated mining scarring parts of the islands with a lunar landscape of craters.

Still, the industry is a major employer and has drawn in workers from across Indonesia to the islands, off the east coast of Sumatra, about halfway between Jakarta and Singapore.

Four employees of state tin miner Timah and three employees of a Timah subsidiary were on the plane.

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Company secretary Amin Haris Sugiarto said Timah had been hoping for a miracle and their employees could be found.

Timah has sent an emergency response team, including a doctor and paramedics, to Jakarta to help the families of their staff.

Lion Air has flown about 100 family members of the missing to Jakarta and the airport in Pangkal Pinang is preparing for the remains of victims to be flown back.

Search and rescue teams have only found body parts from the missing plane.

In the town of Sungai Liat, about 40 kilometers from Pangkal Pinang, relatives of a couple who were on board the plane with their 15-month-old daughter sought comfort by reciting verses from the Koran in a tent set up outside the family home.

Wita Seriani, a dentist, and her husband Rizal Gilang Perkasa Sanusi Putra, who worked at state utility company Perusahaan Listrik Negara, had just celebrated their second wedding anniversary.

Family members had gone to Jakarta to give DNA samples to help with identification, but Wita's mother, Susmawati, had remained behind.

"It's all fate," she said, speaking softly.

Susmawati said her daughter had sent her a message 20 minutes before the flight took off from Jakarta so that her father could pick them up at the airport.

"Mom, tell dad, we're on board the plane," the message read.