Indonesia’s Sriwijaya Air loses contact with passenger plane

An Indonesian Sriwijaya Air plane is feared to have crashed into the sea after the Boeing 737 lost contact with air traffic control in the capital Jakarta with flight tracking data demonstrating it plunged into a steep jump minutes after takeoff.

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said flight SJ182 was delayed by an hour before it took off at 2:36pm (07:36 GMT) on Saturday.

The Boeing 737-500 disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 8,839 meters (29,000 feet), he said.

Sumadi told a news conference that 62 people had been on board.

A statement released by the budget airline said the plane was on an estimated hour and a half domestic flight from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo island, about 740km (460 miles) away.

Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington, reporting from Jakarta, said the 62 people on board included seven children and three infants and that the authorities believe they have discovered debris of the plane.

“The military has sent reinforcements including helicopters, and military vessels attempting to discover what exactly happened,” she said.

Washington said the flight was delayed because of helpless weather conditions and heavy downpour at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

Minister Sumadi said twelve vessels, including four warships, were deployed in a search and rescue operation centered between Lancang and Laki islands, part of the Thousand Islands chain just north of Jakarta.

Separately, the Indonesian Navy said it determined the coordinates of the missing plane and ships were deployed to the location.

Surachman, a local government official, told Kompas TV that anglers discovered what appeared to be the wreckage of an aircraft in waters north of Jakarta. Other news channels showed images of suspected wreckage.

“We discovered some cables, a bit of pants, and bits of metal on the water,” Zulkifli, a security official, told CNNIndonesia.com.

Bambang Suryo Aji, the National Search and Rescue Agency’s deputy head of operations and preparedness, said rescuers collected plane debris and clothes and they handed the items over to the National Transportation Safety Committee for further investigation to determine whether they were from the missing plane.

Aji said no radio beacon signal had been detected from the aircraft. He said his agency was investigating why the plane’s crisis locator transmitter, or ELT, was not transmitting a sign that could confirm whether it had crashed.

Reliable tracking service Flightradar24 said on its Twitter feed that flight SJ182 “lost more than 10,000 feet [3,000 metres] of altitude in under one minute, about four minutes after departure from Jakarta”.

Television footage showed relatives and friends of the flight passengers sobbing, imploring and hugging each other as they waited at Jakarta and Pontianak airports.

The aircraft is a 27-year-old Boeing 737-500, according to registration details included in the tracking data.

“Many airlines in Indonesia have had issues in the past but this is a story that has caught many people off-monitor as Sriwijaya Air has some reliable history,” and the plane was believed to be in good condition, Al Jazeera’s Washington said.

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