Lion Air Group’s Boeing Co. 737 Max 8 jet with 189 on board lost contact a few minutes after takeoff from the nation’s capital and crashed. (Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg)
Search teams in Indonesia have located the black box of the Lion Air plane that plunged into the Java Sea this week, Kompas TV reported, as the carrier suspended some executives following the nation’s worst air disaster in two decades.
The Boeing Co. 737 Max 8 jet with 189 on board lost contact a few minutes after takeoff from the nation’s capital and crashed, setting off the hunt for the wreckage and data recorders that could help solve the mystery. The black box monitors a plane’s electronics and mechanical systems as well as stores the conversations of pilots.
Indonesia’s transport ministry on Thursday ordered Lion Air to immediately relieve its director of maintenance, managers in charge of quality control and fleet maintenance, and an engineer to facilitate a smooth investigation. It is too early to determine what led to the disaster, the carrier’s owner Rusdi Kirana has said.
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The tragedy has raised questions about the safety record of a country whose airlines were for years judged too dangerous to fly over Europe. Prior to the accident, the first for a 737 Max 8, the plane had experienced problems on a previous flight with the sensors used to calculate altitude and air speed, according to a spokesman.
The aircraft dropped from an altitude of about 4,850 feet (1,479 meters) in about 21 seconds, in what appears to be a high-speed dive into the water at about 350 miles an hour — far above the typical rate for a descent.
Rescuers inspect parts of the crashed Lion Air plane during a search operation in the waters of Tanjung Karawang, Indonesia, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. Divers searched Tuesday for victims of the Lion Air plane crash and high-tech equipment was deployed to find its data recorders as reports emerged of problems on the jet’s previous flight that had terrified passengers. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
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The latest suspensions follow measures announced on Wednesday: The transport ministry ordered an audit of Lion Air’s maintenance, repair and overhaul unit and the suspension of its director for maintenance and the engineer who cleared the flight even after issues were reported.
The government has vowed “strict sanctions” on Lion Air if a probe by the safety board proves negligence on the part of the airline, the ministry said on Wednesday. The ministry also ordered freezing of the license of suspended employees for 120 days.
The nation’s domestic airline market has boomed in recent years to become the fifth largest in the world. Local airline traffic more than tripled between 2005 and 2017 to 97 million people, according to the CAPA Center for Aviation, and is dominated by flag carrier PT Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air Group.
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Carriers have struggled with safety issues partly as a result of the pace of that expansion, as well as issues intrinsic to a region of mountainous terrain, equatorial thunderstorms and often underdeveloped aviation infrastructure. Lion Air was among Indonesian airlines that were banned by the EU from 2007 through 2016, according to the Aviation Safety Network database maintained by the Flight Safety Foundation.