After taking off from Indonesia’s capital Jakarta on a domestic flight on Saturday, a Sriwijaya Air plane with 62 people on board lost touch and rescuers said suspicious wreckage had been spotted in the sea off the city.
The Boeing 737-500 vanished from the radar screens on its way to Pontianak in West Kalimantan after taking off just after 2:30pm (0730 GMT).
Budi Karya, the Indonesian Transport Minister, told a news conference that 62 people were on board, including 12 crew members. Earlier, another official said there were 56 passengers and six crew.
The teams were deployed to search the waters north of Jakarta, said Bagus Puruhito, chief of the country’s search and rescue department Basarnas. No pulse from the radio beacon was observed, the agency added.
Agus Haryono, another agency official, told Reuters that the debris suspected of coming from the aircraft had been detected in the sea, but it was not proven to have come from the missing flight.
Flight SJ182 “lost more than 10,000 feet of altitude in less than one minute, about 4 minutes after departure from Jakarta,” the accurate monitoring service Flightradar24 said on its Twitter account.
In a tweet, Sriwijaya Air, an Indonesian airline, said it was collecting more specific flight details before it could make a fuller statement.
The almost 27-year-old Boeing 737-500 was even older than the troubled 737 MAX variant from Boeing, one of which crashed off Jakarta at the end of 2018, killing all 189 people on board the Lion Air flight.
Older 737 versions are usually flown and do not have the machine involved in the safety problem of the MAX.
A Boeing spokeswoman said: “We are aware of Jakarta’s media reports and are monitoring the situation closely.” We are working on collecting more evidence.
Indonesian TV channels presented photographs of presumed wreckage.
“We found some cables, some jeans, and some pieces of metal in the water,” Zulkifli, a security officer, told CNNIndonesia.com.
Nurhasan, a fisherman in the Thousand Islands district, told local media that he had found many pieces of metal with his crew.
When the plane took off for Pontianak, about 740km (460 miles) away, it was raining at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.
Video pictures from the airport showed the passengers’ relatives in tears as they waited for news of what had happened.
Rescue official Agus has said that 50 people are involved in the search and that they are going to dig into the night.
Formed in 2003, Sriwijaya Air Group, headquartered in Jakarta, flies largely within Indonesia.
So far, the airline has a good safety record, with no onboard fatalities in four accidents reported on the Aviation Safety Network database, while a farmer was killed after a hydraulic problem when a Boeing 737-200 left the runway in 2008.
The Boeing 737 is the world’s most-sold aircraft family which, since it entered service in 1968, has undergone many makeovers.
Nonetheless, analysts say aircraft such as the leased 737-500 from Sriwijaya are being phased out for newer fuel-saving versions.
Civil jets usually have an economic life of 25 years, which means they are too pricey compared to newer versions to keep going after that, but they are designed to last longer.