Updated at 5 a.m. ET
An Indonesian airliner carrying at least 188 passengers and crew crashed into the Java Sea minutes after takeoff from Jakarta.
Within moments of taking off from the Indonesian capital bound for Pangkal Pinang, an island east of Sumatra, the Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 asked and was granted permission to return to the airport, according to The Associated Press. Thirteen minutes into the flight, it suddenly lost altitude and disappeared from radar, according to local reports.
Officials said the aircraft was carrying 189 passengers and crew — 178 adult passengers, two babies and one infant in addition to two pilots and six other aircraft crew.
“The plane crashed into water about 30 to 40 meters [100 to 130 feet] deep,” Search and Rescue Agency spokesman Yusuf Latif told the Agence France-Presse news agency. “We’re still searching for the remains of the plane.”
Indonesian television showed video of a fuel slick and debris field in the water. Belongings of some of the passengers, a pieces from the plane, were recovered from the water.
“We don’t know yet whether there are any survivors,” the head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, Muhmmad Syaugi, told a news conference, according to Reuters.
“We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm,” He said, adding that no distress signal had been heard from the plane’s emergency transmitter. The agency also said that a tug boat leaving the capital’s port witnessed the plane crash into the water.
Lion Air, a low-cost carrier, has a spotty safety record, with a number of incidents over the years, including a crash landing at sea in April 2013 that remarkably resulted in no deaths or serious injuries. Due to the problems, the U.S. and the European Union had banned it from operating in their airspace, but both lifted that restriction in 2016.
The website Flightradar24 reported on Twitter that preliminary data from Flight JT610 showed an increase in speed and decrease in altitude from its last transmission. According to data published by Flightradar24, the plane was last recorded at an altitude of 3,650 feet and a speed of 397 mph.
Reuters reports that at least 23 government officials were aboard the plane. NPR’s Julie McCarthy has confirmed that 20 of those officials were from the Finance Ministry who were returning to the island of Bangka, a tin-mining region.
Indonesian television showed video of a fuel slick and debris field in the water.
Reuters reports that the pilot and co-pilot had amassed a combined 11,000 hours flying time before the crash.
Indonesian officials quoted by Channel News Asia said Lion Air had taken delivery of the brand new Boeing 737-800 MAX, described as “an updated, more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer’s workhorse singe-aisle jet” on Aug. 13 of this year.
“We don’t dare to say what the facts are, or are not, yet,” Edward Sirait, the chief executive of Lion Air Group, told Reuters. “We are also confused about the why, since it was a new plane.”
The crash in Indonesia is the first reported to involve the new 737 model. Boeing has been informed of the crash and is “closely monitoring” the situation, a company spokesman told Reuters.