‘We surrender to the Almighty’: Indonesian families mourn as divers pluck Boeing jet wreckage from Java Sea

12-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

When Rion Yogatama, 30, left his home in Pangkal Pinang, the capital of the Bangka-Belitung tin mining region, on Saturday morning, his family expected him to fly to the Indonesian capital Jakarta for a short transit, before continuing to Pontianak in West Kalimantan to resume work as a telecommunications tower maintenance officer.

Instead, they found out just hours later that his Sriwijaya Air flight SJ 182 never made it to its final destination and was feared to have crashed into the Java Sea.

Rion’s uncle Suyitno, who lives in the city of Lubuklinggau in the southern part of Sumatra island, immediately set off for the capital with Rion’s parents, who brought with them their son’s identity card and birth certificate. The journey took them 17 hours by car.

On Sunday night, as search and rescue officials plucked body parts, twisted wreckage and clothing from the waters off Jakarta, Suyitno, 52 looked drained as he spoke to reporters at a crisis centre set up by the airline.

“We surrender his fate to the Almighty. If he is still alive then we thank God but we have little hope of that happening,” he said. “I’m not traumatised [about flying]… I often travel by planes but I told my family, whenever we board a plane, we actually enter a coffin.”

Rion, who leaves behind his wife and two children one aged three, the other an infant was among the 62 Indonesian citizens on board the Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-524 that went into a steep dive four minutes after taking off before slamming into the waters off Jakarta, the latest blight on Indonesia’s already chequered aviation safety record.

More than 20 helicopters, 100 navy ships and boats, and 2,500 rescue personnel have been searching since Sunday and have found parts of the plane in the water at a depth of 23 metres, leading rescuers to continue searching the area.

An investigator with Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) on Monday said the Sriwijaya Air jet possibly broke apart when it hit waters based on debris found so far.

“We don’t know for sure, but if we look at the debris, they’re scattered in an area that is not too wide,” Nurcahyo Utomo said. “It possibly ruptured when it hit waters because if it had exploded mid-air, the debris would be distributed more widely.”

A naval team retrieved a turbine from the jet, said a representative. “The turbine was found by the Rigel naval ship equipped with a 3-dimension sonar,” naval officer Major Orri Ronsumbre said.

Two signals from the aircraft’s black boxes which consist of a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder were picked up and located on Sunday, military chief Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said.

Data from the recorders could help crash investigators to shed light on the cause of the accident.

Weather has been a contributing factor in several of the past crashes in Indonesia and may have played a part in this accident. On Saturday, heavy rain in Jakarta delayed the flight’s take-off.

The airport’s official weather report about 10 minutes before the crash said there was light rain with a cloud ceiling starting at 1,800 feet (550 metres) above the ground.


At the Pontianak airport, distraught relatives waited nervously for news.

“I have four family members on the flight my wife and three children,” said a sobbing Yaman Zai. “[My wife] sent me a picture of the baby… How could my heart not be torn into pieces?”

Among the other passengers were Ihsan Adhlan Hakim and his new bride Putri, who were taking the 90-minute flight to Pontianak where they were to attend a wedding celebration planned for them.

“He called me to say that the flight was delayed due to bad weather,” Hakim’s brother Arwin said from Pontianak. “That was the last time I had contact with him.”

At Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta on Sunday night, the crisis centre was relatively quiet, as most families and relatives of passengers who turned up looking for information were taken to a police hospital in the east of the capital, to help with identifying body parts.

Family members also headed to Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta where the search and rescue team had brought retrieved plane debris and personal items, such as luggage and clothes.

Data from FlightRadar24 indicated that the airliner, which took off at 2.36pm local time, reached an altitude of nearly 11,000 feet (3,350 metres) before dropping suddenly to 250 feet. It then lost contact with air traffic control.

Transport minister Budi Karya Sumadi on Saturday night that the plane was attempting to climb to 29,000 feet but at 2.40pm, when it failed to follow directions given by the air traffic controller and instead headed northwest, the controller radioed the pilot to ask for a report. Within seconds it had disappeared from radar, he said.

“The aircraft’s final moments are… very concerning as the speed that [it] was flying at that altitude was much lower than expected,” said Stephen Wright, professor of aircraft systems at Finland’s Tampere University.

“The last seconds saw the aircraft rapidly descend from 10,000 feet to the sea in a matter of 20 seconds, which implies a catastrophic event or something deliberate.”

But he added that the crash could “only be fully explained once the black boxes and wreckage can be properly analysed”.


Indonesia’s aviation record is one of the worst in Asia, with more civilian airliner passenger accidents since 1945 than any other country in the region. Past accidents have been attributed to poor pilot training, mechanical failures, air traffic control issues and poor aircraft maintenance.

While experts say there have been many improvements in recent years, the latest crash has experts questioning the true progress of Indonesia’s aviation oversight and regulation.

Sriwijaya Air, which operates flights to destinations in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, has said little so far about the 26-year-old plane, which was previously flown by US-based Continental Airlines and United Airlines.

The Indonesian carrier has not recorded a fatal crash since it started operations in 2003, but this accident is the latest in a string of disasters for Indonesian aviation. Airlines from Southeast Asia’s largest economy were once banned from entering US and European airspace.

In 2014, an AirAsia plane headed from Surabaya to Singapore crashed with the loss of 162 lives.

A final report said major factors included a chronically faulty component in a rudder control system, poor maintenance, and the pilots’ inadequate response.

In October 2018, 189 people were killed when a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX jet crashed near Jakarta.

That accident and another in Ethiopia saw Boeing hit with $2.5 billion in fines over claims it defrauded regulators overseeing the 737 MAX model, which was grounded worldwide following the accidents.

The 737 that went down on Saturday was not a MAX variant.

“Our thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families,” Boeing said in a statement.

The US National Transportation Safety Board has appointed a senior investigator to assist in the probe, but is awaiting more information before determining whether it will send a team, it said in an emailed statement.

Under a United Nations treaty, the NTSB along with technical experts from Boeing and possibly the manufacturers of other components would participate in the probe because the jet was built in the US.



Category: Indonesia

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