Indonesia to inspect all Boeing 737-MAX planes, plans sanctions for Lion Air after crash

  • The disaster has reignited concerns about safety in Indonesia’s fast-growing aviation industry, which was recently removed from European Union and US blacklists
  • Two passengers on the plane’s previous flight from Bali to Jakarta on Sunday have described issues that caused frustration and alarm
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 2:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 11:23pm

Indonesia on Tuesday ordered the inspection of all Boeing 737-MAX airliners in service in the country, as its transport minister warned of sanctions for Lion Air over the mystery crash of an almost-new jet carrying 189 people.

“To whom exactly we will have to wait … the sanctions can be applied to the airline management, company’s board, or cabin crew, and even to the plane [manufacturer] but we can’t apply the sanctions this early in the investigation,” Budi Karya Sumadi said.

As night fell on the second day of the search off Indonesia’s northern coast, the Disaster Victim Identification Unit said it had received 24 body bags with 87 body parts, while two body bags that arrived today are yet to be examined. Family members of passengers who thronged the police hospital where the unit is based provided medical records and DNA samples.

‘I am going back home’: families share last stories of those aboard Indonesia’s crashed Lion Air flight

“We still couldn’t identify victims due to the condition of the body parts. We are still waiting for the DNA test results, and we will get that in the next four to eight days,” said Arthur Tampi, chief of the national police’s medical and health division.

At the Tanjung Priok port in North Jakarta earlier in the day, officials took up the grim task of separating human remains from plane debris and sodden personal belongings extracted from the Java Sea.

Photos circulated online showed shoes, torn clothing, wallets and bags scattered among aircraft seats, their covers shredded by the impact of the crash. The remains of a baby were found, according to national deputy police chief Ari Dono Sukmanto.

Aviation analysts said it was still too soon to determine what caused the accident, and that recovering the plane’s flight data recorders by divers and “pinger locators” deployed in the search would be crucial.

The National Search and Rescue Agency on Tuesday said its priority was finding the plane’s fuselage, thought to be in water some 30 to 40 metres deep, and it was using five warships equipped with sonar to detect metal underwater.

But nothing has been found and Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, known as KNKT, later said in a statement it would widen the search area to a radius of 15 nautical miles from Wednesday.

Deadly crashes and near misses: Why does Indonesia have such a notorious air safety record?

The Boeing-737 MAX, which went into service just two months ago, took off in the wee hours of Monday morning in clear weather. It was heading for Pangkal Pinang, a jumping-off point for tourists seeking beaches and sun on nearby Belitung island.

Flight JT610 sped up as it suddenly lost altitude, as pilots asked to return to the airport. Then it vanished from radar 13 minutes after take-off, with witnesses saying the single-aisle jet plunged into the water.

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

KNKT said experts from Boeing would arrive in Indonesia on Wednesday to help with the investigation. A team from the US National Transportation Safety Board and engine maker CFM International will also assist in the Indonesian authorities’ probe.

Daniel Putut Kuncoro Adi, the managing director of the Lion Air Group, said the privately owned company, which has several other low-cost carriers in its fold, would meet the Boeing team.

“We have many questions for them … This was a new plane,” Putut said at the police hospital.

Lion Air, one of Boeing’s largest customers globally, announced in April a firm order to buy 50 Boeing-737 MAX 10 narrow body jets worth about US$6.24 billion.

Putut said the next delivery of the 737 MAX aircraft would have to undergo “an evaluation process” following the crash. The model is also used by Indonesia’s flag carrier Garuda Indonesia.

Lion Air took responsibility for the tragedy, Putut said, and had provided accommodation and transport for victims’ families from Pangkal Pinang and would provide counselling to relatives.

A silent plunge, then a deafening crash: how Indonesia’s Lion Air tragedy unfolded, likely killing 189

Of the 189 people on board, only two were non-Indonesians ­­– the pilot, 31-year-old Indian national Bhavye Suneja, and 26-year-old Italian national and former professional cyclist Andrea Manfredi. Manfredi’s Instagram account showed he had visited Hong Kong before travelling to Jakarta where he boarded the ill-fated flight.

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Simply amazing! ️From day to night view️ #hongkong #picoftheday #travel #discovery #enjoy #life #like4likes

A post shared by Andrea Manfredi (@andry_manfredi) on Oct 24, 2018 at 8:09am PDT

China’s state news agency Xinhua said President Xi Jinping sent a message of condolence to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, saying he was deeply saddened upon learning of the accident. Lion Air on Monday acknowledged that the plane had an unspecified technical issue fixed in Bali before it was flown back to Jakarta, calling it “normal procedure”. A technical logbook detailed an “unreliable” airspeed reading instrument on the Bali-Jakarta flight on Sunday and different altitude readings on the captain and first officer’s instruments, according to the BBC.

One passenger on the Sunday flight, Alon Soetanto, told TVOne the plane dropped suddenly several times in the first few minutes of its flight. “About three to eight minutes after it took off, I felt like the plane was losing power and unable to rise. That happened several times during the flight,” he said. “We felt like in a roller coaster. Some passengers began to panic and vomit.”

Even if they can only find his body parts ... we will take whatever we can bring home
Dedi Onil, whose brother Chairul Aswan was aboard the Lion Air flight

As videos and photos purporting to document the last moments of the flight circulated online, the spokesman of the country’s disaster mitigation agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, urged people to stop spreading fake news. He highlighted specific pieces of information making the rounds and pinpointed their origins to previous incidents.

“For all of us, please don’t spread photos of victims and hoaxes. Please be wise,” he tweeted.

At the police hospital in Jakarta, Pangkal Pinang resident Dedi Onil said his family would accept reality as long as the body of his brother Chairul Aswan, seated in 23F on the plane, was found.

“Even if they can only find his body parts, not his body, we will take whatever we can bring home and we will bury him in Pangkal Pinang,” Dedi said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters