Asia Pacific

Indonesia military chief ‘strongly believes’ fuselage of crashed jetliner found

AFP-JIJI

The smashed fuselage of a crashed Indonesian jetliner may have been found, the country’s military chief said Wednesday, two days after the deadly accident feared to have killed 189 people.

Using sonar technology, Hadi Tjahjanto said authorities were confident they had pinpointed the location of the Boeing 737-MAX plane that plunged into the sea on Monday.

“We strongly believe we’ve determined the coordinates of the JT 610 fuselage,” he told reporters in Jakarta.

“However, it has not yet been confirmed that it is part of the fuselage.”

Authorities have been searching for the downed jet’s location in water some 30-40 meters (100-130 feet) deep in the hopes of also finding flight data recorders expected to be crucial to the crash investigation.

The development comes as Boeing officials are to meet with Lion Air on Wednesday, after Indonesia ordered an inspection of the U.S. plane-maker’s 737-MAX jets.

The Boeing-737 MAX 8, which went into service just a few months ago, crashed into the Java Sea off Indonesia’s northern coast moments after it had asked to return to Jakarta on Monday.

Aviation experts say it is too early to determine what caused the accident.

But Lion’s admission that the plane had an unspecified technical issue on a previous flight — as well as the plane’s abrupt nose dive just 12 minutes after takeoff — have raised questions about whether the plane had any faults specific to the newly released model.

The accident has also resurrected concerns about Indonesia’s patchy air safety record which led to a now-lifted ban on its planes entering U.S. and European airspace.

“When you have a new plane, you expect the thing to work exactly like it’s supposed to in the written contract. … It’s in everyone’s interest for this thing to work,” said Stephen Wright, aviation expert at the University of Leeds.

Indonesia’s transport minister ordered an inspection of all 737-MAX aircraft Tuesday, while representatives from Boeing are due to meet with the budget carrier, said Lion spokesman Ramaditya Handoko.

Lion Air Group Managing Director Daniel Putut said the airline had “many questions” for the Chicago-based company and they would discuss the delivery of remaining aircraft 737-MAX models, Indonesian news website tirto.id reported.

Lion Air, Indonesia’s biggest budget airline which has been engaged in huge expansion, announced earlier this year it was buying 50 Boeing-737 MAX 10 jets for $6.24 billion.

Boeing suspended release of the fuel-efficient 737 MAX just days before its first commercial delivery last year due to engine issues.

But the narrow-body jet was subsequently cleared for commercial delivery and has had thousands of orders from more than 100 customers worldwide.

Boeing said in a statement it was providing technical assistance at the request and under the direction of Indonesian authorities, but did not comment on the reported meeting.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will also help out into the investigation of the downed plane.

Search teams have taken up the grim task of separating human remains from plane debris and recovered personal effects, sending the body parts — including from an infant — to a hospital for DNA testing.

Some 48 body bags filled with limbs and other remains have so far been recovered, authorities said Wednesday.

Dozens of divers were taking part in the recovery effort along with helicopters and ships.

Indonesia’s search and rescue agency has all but ruled out finding any survivors from the high-impact crash.

The plane was en route to Pangkal Pinang city, a jumping off point for beach-and-sun seeking tourists on nearby Belitung island, when it dropped out of contact around 6:30 a.m. (2330 GMT).

The pilot and co-pilot had more than 11,000 hours flying time between them and had undergone recent medical checkups and drug testing, the carrier said.