Boeing 737 Max, Operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air, Crashes with 189 on Board

By and | October 29, 2018

A Boeing Co. 737 Max jet, operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air, crashed in the Java Sea with 189 people on board, making it the model’s first accident and potentially the worst commercial aviation disaster in three years.

Flight JT610, an almost brand new 737 Max 8, took off from the capital Jakarta at 6:20 a.m. local time Monday and lost contact 13 minutes later when it was at an altitude of about 3,000 feet, according to Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency. The aircraft was heading for the popular tourist destination of Pangkalpinang, off Sumatra.

First delivered last year, the narrow-body Max family of aircraft is popular with airlines, and has racked up an order backlog of over 4,000 planes. In Asia, where several dozen low-cost carriers have emerged over the last decade, customers include India’s SpiceJet Ltd. and state-owned, full-service carrier China Southern Airlines Co. The latest version of the 737 family competes with Airbus SE’s A320neo range of jets.

While the cause of the crash isn’t clear, Boeing said in a statement Monday that it’s ready to provide technical assistance to crash investigators. Boeing’s 737 planes have had 208 hull losses since 1970, according to the Aviation Safety Network database maintained by the Flight Safety Foundation. Hull loss is an industry term for aircraft damaged beyond repair.

The pilot made a request to return to the airport after two to three minutes of the take-off from Jakarta, according to Airnav. While the air traffic controller gave the clearance for the plane to return, it lost contact with the aircraft soon after. There was no information about any adverse weather conditions, according to the National Transportation Safety Committee.

The search and rescue agency said it expects no survivors from the crash and bodies of most victims were probably trapped inside the fuselage of the plane in the seabed. Rescuers have so far been able to recover only body parts, debris of the plane and some belongings of passengers, the agency’s Operations Deputy Bambang Suryo Aji told reporters in Jakarta. The search is focused on a 124 nautical miles area in the Java Sea, he said.

The agency will continue the search through the night and ships and helicopters have been deployed to the site, M. Syaugi, head of Indonesia’s rescue agency, said. The shallow waters in the area have an average depth of about 150 feet. “We’re trying to dive to locate the plane,” Syaugi said.

Based on the number of people on the plane, the incident could be the most lethal since a Russian Metrojet aircraft carrying 224 crashed in Egypt in 2015. The last crash of a Western-built jetliner not involving an external attack came on March 19, 2016, when 55 passengers died as a Boeing 737 operated by FlyDubai came down in bad weather in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

Jakarta-based Lion Air, owned by privately held PT Lion Mentari Airlines, is a budget carrier that started operations in 2000. It is among major customers for Boeing and Airbus in Asia. In February 2012, Lion Air placed an order for 201 of the in-development 737 Max planes and 29 of the extended range 737-900 aircraft in a $22.4 billion deal valued at list price.

Lion Air flies 183 routes locally as well as to some overseas destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and China, according to its website. Its unit Malindo Air was the first in the world to put the 737 Max into service.

The last major air accident in Indonesia was in December 2014 when AirAsia Indonesia’s Airbus A320 aircraft crashed into the sea after taking off from Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board.

Engine maker CFM International — a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran SA — says it’s standing by to assist Lion Air, CNBC reported, citing a company statement. Flight JT610 was powered by CFM Leap-1B engines, according to the report.

CMIG Leasing, a unit of China Minsheng Investment Group that leased the plane to Lion Air, said it is contacting Boeing and the carrier to gather information on the crash, and it is fully covered by insurance, according to a statement.

Lion Air was on the European Union’s list of banned air carriers from 2007 through 2016, according to the Aviation Safety Network database maintained by the Flight Safety Foundation.

The airline has suffered several hull losses. The most recent was in 2013, when a two-month-old Boeing 737-800 landed in the water short of a runway at Denpasar-Ngurah Rai Bali International Airport. While the aircraft fuselage broke apart on impact, there were no fatalities.

The 737 is a workhorse of budget carriers and Boeing’s all-time best-seller. The Max is the most recent model in an aircraft family dating to the mid-1960s. The database lists 208 hull losses for the single-aisle aircraft since 1970.

The crashed passenger jet had just 800 hours of flight time, according to Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee. The plane entered service with Lion Air only in August.

Indonesia’s domestic airline market has boomed in recent years to become the world’s fifth largest. Domestic airline traffic more than tripled between 2005 and 2017 to 97 million, according to Center for Aviation. The market is dominated by flag carrier PT Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air Group, the center estimates.

Other Key Information:
  • Those on board included 178 adults, 1 child, 2 infants and eight crew
  • About 20 officials of the finance ministry were among those aboard
  • Ten employees of Indonesia’s State Audit Agency were on plane
  • The accident is the first for the Boeing 737 Max 8
  • The pilot and co-pilot had 6,000 and 5,000 flight hours, respectively
  • CFM International’s LEAP-1B is the only engine type used in 737 Max aircraft: Boeing

–With assistance from Kyunghee Park, Julie Johnsson, Angus Whitley, Karlis Salna, Fathiya Dahrul, Viriya Singgih and Jun Luo.

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