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JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jan 9, (AP): A Sriwijaya Air jet carrying 62 people lost contact with air traffic controllers minutes after taking off from Indonesia’s capital on a domestic flight on Saturday, and debris found by fishermen was being examined to see if it was from the missing plane, officials said.
Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2:36 p.m. The Boeing 737-500 disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 29,000 feet (8,839 meters), he said. The airline said in a statement that the plane was on an estimated 90-minute flight from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo island.
The plane was carrying 50 passengers and 12 crew members, all Indonesian nationals, including six extra crew for another trip. Sumadi said a dozen vessels, including four warships, were deployed in a search-and-rescue operation centered between Lancang island and Laki island, part of the Thousand Islands chain just north of Jakarta. Bambang Suryo Aji, the National Search and Rescue Agency’s deputy head of operations and preparedness, said rescuers collected plane debris and clothes that were found by fishermen.
They handed the items over to the National Transportation Safety Committee for further investigation to determine whether they were from the missing plane. A commander of one of the search-and-rescue ships who goes by a single name, Eko, said that fishermen found cables and pieces of metal in the water.
“The fishermen told us that they found them shortly after they heard an explosion like the sound of thunder,” Eko was quoted by TVOne as saying, adding that aviation fuel was found in the location where the fishermen found the debris. Aji said no radio beacon signal had been detected from the 26-year-old plane. He said his agency was investigating why the plane’s emergency locator transmitter, or ELT, was not transmitting a signal that could confirm whether it had crashed.
“The satellite system owned by neighboring Australia also did not pick up on the ELT signal from the missing plane,” Aji said. Solihin, 22, a fisherman from Lancang Island, said he and two other fishermen heard an explosion around 30 meter from them. “We thought it was a bomb or a tsunami since after that we saw the big splash from the water after the explosion. It was raining heavily and the weather was so bad. So it is difficult to see around clearly,” he said.