A massive search effort has identified the possible seabed location of the crashed Lion Air jet, Indonesia’s military chief has said.
The two-month-old Boeing plane plunged into the Java Sea on Monday just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.
“This morning I’ve been briefed by the head of Search and Rescue Agency about the strong possibility of the location co-ordinates” of Flight 610, said armed forces chief Hadi Tjahjanto. “Hopefully that is the main body of the plane that we’ve been looking for.”
Separately, the head of the National Transportation Safety Committee, Soerjanto Tjahjono, told reporters that pings detected by search teams are definitely from the aircraft’s flight recorder because of their regular interval.
The disaster has reignited concerns about safety in Indonesia’s fast-growing aviation industry, which was recently removed from European Union and US blacklists, and also raised doubts about the safety of Boeing’s new generation 737 MAX 8 plane.
Boeing experts are expected to arrive in Indonesia on Wednesday and Lion Air has said an “intense” internal investigation is under way in addition to the probe by safety regulators.
Navy officer Haris Djoko Nugroho said the 22-metre-long object that could be part of the fuselage is at a depth of 32 metres. He said divers will be deployed after side-scan sonar has produced more detailed images. He said it was first located on Tuesday evening.
“There are some small objects that we found, but last night, thank God, we found a large enough object,” he said.
Data from flight-tracking sites show the plane had erratic speed and altitude in the early minutes of a flight on Sunday and on its fatal flight on Monday. Safety experts caution, however, that the data must be checked for accuracy against the plane’s black boxes, which officials are confident will be recovered.
Several passengers on Sunday’s flight from Bali to Jakarta have recounted problems that included a long-delayed take-off for an engine check and terrifying descents in the first 10 minutes in the air.
Two interviewed on Indonesian TV recalled details such as a strange engine sound, a smell of burnt cables, and panicked passengers crying out for God to save them as the plane rapidly lost altitude. Later in the flight, a man who was either the captain or first officer walked through the plane and returned to the cockpit with what looked like a large manual.
Lion Air has said maintenance was carried out on the aircraft after Sunday’s flight and a problem, which it did not specify, was fixed.
Officials said searchers have sent 48 body bags containing human remains to police identification experts.