Miami Herald (Sunday)

In­done­sian jet­liner with 62 aboard crashes in the sea af­ter take­off

- BY HAN­NAH BEECH AND MUKTITA SUHARTONO Airlines · Transportation · Incidents · Industries · Java · Jakarta · Boeing · Indonesia · Sriwijaya Air · Borneo · Twitter · United States of America · PT Lion Mentari Airlines · Ethiopia · American Airlines · Philippines Department of Justice · Airbus · Ministry of Transport and Road Safety · Pontianak · Ministry of Transport and Road Safety · National Search and Rescue Agency · National Transportation Safety Committee · U.S. Federal Aviation Administration

A pas­sen­ger jet car­ry­ing more than 60 peo­ple crashed into the Java Sea on Satur­day, min­utes af­ter tak­ing off from the In­done­sian cap­i­tal, Jakarta, In­done­sian of­fi­cials said, bring­ing re­newed at­ten­tion to a na­tion long trou­bled by avi­a­tion dis­as­ters.

The fate of the plane, a Boe­ing 737-524, also car­ried the po­ten­tial to en­snare the trou­bled Amer­i­can avi­a­tion gi­ant in more bad pub­lic­ity, even though the cause of the crash had not been de­ter­mined.

In­done­sia’s Trans­porta­tion Min­istry said that the last con­tact with the plane, Sri­wi­jaya Air Flight 182, was made at 2:40 p.m. lo­cal time. The plane, bound for the city of Pon­tianak on the is­land of Bor­neo, had 62 peo­ple on board, ac­cord­ing to the Trans­porta­tion Min­istry. Four min­utes af­ter tak­ing off amid a heavy mon­soon sea­son rain, fol­low­ing a weather de­lay, the 26-yearold plane lost more than 10,000 feet in al­ti­tude in less than 60 sec­onds, ac­cord­ing to Flightrada­r24 flight-track­ing ser­vice.

The In­done­sian Na­tional Search and Res­cue Agency said it had found pieces of de­bris in wa­ters just north­west of Jakarta that it be­lieved may be from the plane’s wreck­age, but that dark­ness and in­clement weather had im­peded its search. The area where the de­bris was found is known as the Thou­sand Is­lands.

“To­mor­row we are go­ing to sur­vey the lo­ca­tion,” So­er­janto Tjahjono, head of In­done­sia’s Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Com­mit­tee, said Satur­day evening, dim­ming hopes that sur­vivors would be found.

Boe­ing ac­knowl­edged Satur­day’s crash, say­ing on Twit­ter: “We are aware of me­dia re­ports from Jakarta, and are closely mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion. We are work­ing to gather more in­for­ma­tion.”

The avi­a­tion sec­tor in In­done­sia, a de­vel­op­ing coun­try of thou­sands of in­hab­ited is­lands, has been plagued by crashes and safety lapses for years. As In­done­sian air­lines, par­tic­u­larly low-cost car­ri­ers, have grown rapidly to cover a vast ar­chi­pel­ago, the do­mes­tic avi­a­tion in­dus­try has been un­der­mined by shoddy air­craft maintenanc­e and cava­lier ad­her­ence to safety stan­dards.

For years, top In­done­sian car­ri­ers were banned from fly­ing to the United States and Europe by those coun­tries’ reg­u­la­tors. Bud­get air­lines would start up busi­ness only to de­clare bankruptcy af­ter deadly crashes.

But Sri­wi­jaya Air, which be­gan op­er­a­tions in 2003 and is In­done­sia’s third­largest car­rier, had never had a fa­tal crash. And the Sri­wi­jaya Air plane that disappeare­d from radar screens on Satur­day was from Boe­ing’s 737 500 se­ries, which is con­sid­ered a work­horse model with years of safe fly­ing.

The crash comes at a time when Boe­ing’s rep­u­ta­tion and bot­tom line have been hurt by a pair of crashes aboard its 737 Max plane two years ago.

In 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 plunged into the Java Sea with 189 peo­ple on board af­ter the 737 Max jet­liner’s anti-stall sys­tem mal­func­tioned. An­other 737 Max crashed in Ethiopia in March 2019 af­ter a sim­i­lar er­ro­neous ac­ti­va­tion of the anti-stall sys­tem.

In all, 346 peo­ple died in those crashes, which led to the ground­ing of the Max fleet world­wide, trig­gered crim­i­nal probes, brought in­tense scru­tiny from gov­ern­ments around the world and led to the ouster of Boe­ing’s CEO. In Novem­ber, the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion be­came the first ma­jor avi­a­tion au­thor­ity to lift its ban on the plane, af­ter re­quir­ing soft­ware up­dates, rewiring and pi­lot re­train­ing. At the end of De­cem­ber, Amer­i­can Air­lines be­came the first U.S. car­rier to re­sume sched­uled flights aboard the 737 Max.

Boe­ing es­ti­mated last year that the ground­ing would cost it more than $18 bil­lion. But that was be­fore the coro­n­avirus pan­demic brought travel to a stand­still, throw­ing the air­line in­dus­try into dis­ar­ray. In 2020, Boe­ing lost more than 1,000 air­craft or­ders, mostly for the Max, though more than 4,000 re­main. Its stock price has fallen about a third from where it was two years ago.

On Thurs­day, the com­pany said it would pay more than $2.5 bil­lion in a set­tle­ment with the Jus­tice Depart­ment re­lated to the anti-stall soft­ware used in the 737 Max. That in­cludes $500 mil­lion set aside for the fam­i­lies of those killed in the crashes and $1.77 bil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion paid to its cus­tomers. In a state­ment an­nounc­ing the agree­ment, a se­nior Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial said Boe­ing’s em­ploy­ees chose “the path of profit over can­dor by con­ceal­ing ma­te­rial in­for­ma­tion from the FAA.”

Whistle­blow­ers have also ac­cused In­done­sia’s trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials of ig­nor­ing dan­ger signs as do­mes­tic car­ri­ers, in­clud­ing Lion Air, ex­panded rapidly to cater to a grow­ing mid­dle class in a na­tion of 270 mil­lion peo­ple.

Lion Air Group, which owns In­done­sia’s largest car­rier, signed what were then the two largest avi­a­tion deals in his­tory, one with Boe­ing and an­other with Air­bus. With its 737 Max model, Boe­ing had tar­geted car­ri­ers in the de­vel­op­ing world, like Lion Air, which were ea­ger to pack their fleets with new jets de­signed for short, lu­cra­tive routes.

But avi­a­tion ex­perts warned that sell­ing planes to car­ri­ers that were grow­ing quickly in un­reg­u­lated en­vi­ron­ments could be a recipe for dis­as­ter.

Jef­fer­son Irwin Jauwena, CEO of Sri­wi­jaya Air, said on Satur­day night that they “are very con­cerned about this in­ci­dent.”

“We hope that your prayers will help the search process to run well and smoothly,” he added.

“What we will also do is to pro­vide the best pos­si­ble as­sis­tance to fam­i­lies.”

Rapin Ak­bar, un­cle of Rizki Wahyudi, a pas­sen­ger on Flight 182, said his nephew called him on Satur­day to tell him that the flight from Jakarta to Pon­tianak had been de­layed. Rapin re­minded his nephew, a na­tional park em­ployee, to keep his face mask on while at the air­port to avoid con­tract­ing the coro­n­avirus. Rizki’s wife, child, mother and cousin were also on the plane.

As he waited for search and res­cue boats to re­port back, Rapin said he was hold­ing out hope for his fam­ily mem­bers. “There will be a mir­a­cle from Al­lah,” he said.

In­done­sian avi­a­tion an­a­lysts said the crash could im­peril Sri­wi­jaya Air’s vi­a­bil­ity, es­pe­cially as the coro­n­avirus has emp­tied In­done­sian skies of many planes.

“Sri­wi­jaya is try­ing hard to sur­vive, and the pan­demic is mak­ing it harder,” said Gerry Soe­jat­man, an In­done­sian avi­a­tion ex­pert. “This crash may spell the end for it.”

In­done­sian pi­lots have also com­plained that the coro­n­avirus has de­creased their op­por­tu­ni­ties to prac­tice their skills and re­fresh their train­ing. At one point dur­ing the pan­demic, Sri­wi­jaya was op­er­at­ing only five air­craft, Soe­jat­man said, low­er­ing crew morale.

At In­done­sia’s Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Com­mit­tee, in­ves­ti­ga­tors pre­pared for the grimly fa­mil­iar task of find­ing out what went wrong in the na­tion’s skies.

“When­ever we hear this kind of news, we get ready,” Ony Suryo Wi­bowo, an in­ves­ti­ga­tor for the com­mit­tee, said Satur­day. “We are gath­er­ing all the in­for­ma­tion we can get.”

 ?? DITA ALANGKARA AP ?? The Chief of Na­tional Search and Res­cue Agency Ba­gus Pu­ruhito, sec­ond right, stands with his staff near a body bag con­tain­ing de­bris found in the wa­ter off Java Is­land where a Sri­wi­jaya Air pas­sen­ger jet has lost con­tact with air traf­fic con­trollers shortly af­ter take off, at Tan­jung Priok Port in Jakarta, In­done­sia, early Sun­day.
DITA ALANGKARA AP The Chief of Na­tional Search and Res­cue Agency Ba­gus Pu­ruhito, sec­ond right, stands with his staff near a body bag con­tain­ing de­bris found in the wa­ter off Java Is­land where a Sri­wi­jaya Air pas­sen­ger jet has lost con­tact with air traf­fic con­trollers shortly af­ter take off, at Tan­jung Priok Port in Jakarta, In­done­sia, early Sun­day.

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