“Black boxes” from a passenger plane that crashed into the sea soon after take-off in Indonesia on Saturday have been located, officials say. Navy divers are confident that they will be able retrieve the two flight recorders when the search operation resumes on Monday.
Aircraft parts and human remains have been found, the Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737 was carrying 62 people when it vanished from radar on its journey to Borneo. “We have located the position of the black boxes, both of them,” said Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesia’s transport safety committee, quoted by AFP earlier on Sunday. “Divers will start looking for them now and hopefully it won’t be long before we get them.” The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, or black boxes as they are often called, store data about planes. They can provide vital information in air accident investigations.
Investigators are analysing items which they believe to be a wheel and part of the plane’s fuselage. A turbine from one of its engines is also among the debris that has been recovered. The search operation has been suspended for the night but is due to resume on Monday morning. However, there appears to be no hope of finding any survivors, a spokesman for the Jakarta police, Yusri Yunus, said two bags had been received from the search and rescue agency.
“The first bag contained passengers’ properties, another bag contained body parts,” he told reporters, adding: “We are still identifying these findings.” Police are asking families of the victims to provide DNA samples and dental records to help identify the remains. The missing aircraft is not a 737 Max, the Boeing model that was grounded from March 2019 until last December following two deadly crashes. The Sriwijaya Air passenger plane departed from Jakarta airport at 14:36 local time (07:36 GMT) on Saturday, minutes later, at 14:40, the last contact with the plane was recorded, with the call sign SJY182, according to the transport ministry.
The usual flight time to Pontianak, in West Kalimantan province in the west of the island of Borneo, is 90 minutes. The aircraft did not send a distress signal, according to the head of national search and rescue agency Air Marshal Bagus Puruhito. It is thought to have dropped more than 3,000m (10,000ft) in less than a minute, according to flight tracking website Flightradar24.com. Witnesses said they had seen and heard at least one explosion. There were thought to be 50 passengers – including seven children and three babies – and 12 crew on board, though the plane has a capacity of 130, everyone on board was Indonesian, officials say.
Relatives of the passengers have been waiting anxiously for news at the airport in Pontianak, as well as at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. Afrida’s 29-year-old son Angga Fernanda Afrion was on the flight. Angga, a merchant seaman, had been told to go to Pontianak because his ship was damaged, she said, just a week ago he had become a father. “If he is gone what I want is to be able to bring him home and bury him properly,” she told BBC Indonesia. Meanwhile relatives of the plane’s captain, Afwan, a former air force pilot, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, described him as a devout Muslim and a “very good man”.
“He was a prominent figure in his neighbourhood and was well-known for his kindness,” says his nephew Ferza Mahardhika. “I’m devastated and can’t believe that this is happening. Please pray for uncle and our family.” According to registration details, the plane was a 26-year-old Boeing 737-500. It was in good condition, Sriwijaya Air chief executive Jefferson Irwin Jauwena told reporters, take-off had been delayed for 30 minutes due to heavy rain, he said. Sriwijaya Air, founded in 2003, is a local budget airline which flies to Indonesian and other South-East Asian destinations.