Rescue workers carry a bag of debris off a boat at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 30 2018. Picture: REUTERS/EDGAR SU
Rescue workers carry a bag of debris off a boat at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 30 2018. Picture: REUTERS/EDGAR SU

Indonesia ordered the inspection of all Boeing 737 Max airliners on Tuesday as rescue teams recovered more victims from a brand-new Lion Air jet that plunged into the sea with 189 people on board.

On a Jakarta dockside, officials took up the grim task of separating human remains from aircraft debris and recovered personal effects, sending the body parts — including from an infant — to hospital for DNA testing.

Stretched out along the dock was a growing collection of items plucked from the sea — single shoes, torn pieces of clothing, wallets and bags scattered among aircraft seats stripped of their blue covers by the sheer impact of the crash.

The Boeing 737 Max, 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.

Flight JT610 sped up as it suddenly lost altitude and then vanished from radar 12 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 aircraft entering US and European airspace.

On Tuesday Indonesia’s transport minister ordered an inspection of all 737 Max aircraft but he stopped short of grounding the new models.

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

Authorities are trying to pinpoint the jet’s location and recover flight data recorders expected to be crucial to the crash investigation.

There were 178 adult passengers, one child, two infants, two pilots and six cabin crew on board.

Scores of relatives thronged a hospital building being used for victim identification.

“My daughter has no husband, my grandchild no longer has a father,” a grieving Hari Setiyono said at the police hospital, referring to his missing son-in-law.

Febby Mellysa had four relatives aboard the doomed jet, including her cousin, his wife and their five-year-old son. “We tried to call my cousin and his wife so many times, but their phone wasn’t active,” she said. “The whole family is confused about what to do next.”

Indonesia’s search-and-rescue agency has all but ruled out finding any survivors from the high-impact crash in water about 30m-40m deep.

“We are prioritising finding the main wreckage of the plane using five war ships equipped with sonar to detect metal underwater,” said Yusuf Latif, spokesperson for the Indonesian search-and-rescue agency.

The aircraft was en route to Pangkal Pinang city, a jumping-off point for tourists on nearby Belitung island, when it dropped out of contact at 6.30am (1.30am SA time).

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

No black boxes yet

Aviation analysts said it was too early to determine what caused the accident. But they said investigators would look at everything from catastrophic mechanical failure and pilot error to weather conditions or unusual cockpit activity that could point to a hijacking or pilot suicide.

“Locating the so-called black boxes is most important now — both the voice and data recorders,” said Terence Fan, an aviation expert at the Singapore Management University. “That should show how the aircraft and pilots actually behaved.”

On Monday, Lion Air acknowledged the aircraft had an unspecified technical issue fixed in Bali before it was flown back to Jakarta, calling it “normal procedure”.

Data from that flight suggested the aircraft may have flown erratically and a technical log circulating on social media pointed to different speed and altitude readings on the captain and first officer’s instruments.

“It is not clear whether the problem was really resolved since the doomed flight was the first departure after the problem was supposedly fixed,” Fan said.

On its last flight, the jet was travelling at a much faster speed than would be expected, but the pilot did not declare an emergency or attempt a water landing.

“That might mean the plane was out of control,” said aviation analyst Dudi Sudibyo.

Boeing suspended the release of the fuel-efficient 737 Max just days before its first commercial delivery in 2017 due to an issue with engines.

Lion Air, Indonesia’s biggest budget airline, which has been engaged in huge expansion, announced earlier in 2018 it was buying 50 Boeing 737 Max 10 jets for $6.24bn. It currently has 10 737 Max jets in its fleet while national carrier Garuda has one.

Indonesia’s air travel industry is booming but regulation and safety woes remain a major concern. In 2014, an AirAsia crash in the Java Sea during stormy weather killed 162 people.

Lion has been involved in a number of incidents including a fatal 2004 crash and a collision between two Lion Air aircraft at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

A string of fake news stories have been circulating about the crash, including one that falsely claims to show a baby who survived.

AFP

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