File Photo: AFP
File Photo: AFP

The Indonesian budget airline jet is feared to have crashed into the sea after the Boeing 737 lost contact with air traffic control on Saturday, with flight tracking data showing the plane plunged into a steep dive several minutes after take-off.

Officials have said that that the flight was carrying 62 people onboard, which included 56 passengers and six crew members. Among the passengers were five children and an infant.

The country's transport minister on this day confirmed that the flight is indeed suspected to have crashed.

"62 passengers and crew aboard Indonesia plane suspected to have crashed," news agency AFP quoted Indonesia's transport minister as saying.

Reuters had earlier reported, citing sources in the Basarnas search and rescue agency, that the rescue officials detected the debris while looking for the Indonesian passenger plane that went off the radar.

Local media had also broadcast some unconfirmed images of small debris fished from the water, suggesting that the plane could have plummeted into the sea.

Indonesian newspaper Merdeka reported, citing sources, that the Regent of the Thousand Islands had notified that "something fell and exploded on Male Island".

A plane flying from Jakarta to Pontianak would spend most of the flight over the Java Sea.

Sriwijaya Air's Boeing 737-500, which has a capacity of about 130, took off at 6:37 AM from Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta international airport and was headed towards Pontianak, the provincial capital of West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

The usual flight time is about 90 minutes over the Java Sea between Indonesia's main Java island and Kalimantan, the country's section of Borneo island.

Data from FlightRadar24 said the plane reached an altitude of nearly 11,000 feet (3,350 metres) before dropping to 250 feet. It then lost contact with air traffic control.

"Sriwijaya Air flight #SJ182 lost more than 10,000 feet of altitude in less than one minute, about 4 minutes after departure from Jakarta," the tracking agency said on its official Twitter account.

Broadcaster Kompas TV quoted local fishermen as saying they had found debris near islands just off the coast of the capital Jakarta, but it could not be immediately confirmed as having belonged to the missing jet.

The budget airline, which has about 19 Boeing jets that fly to destinations in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, said only that it was investigating the loss of contact.

In October 2018, 189 people were killed when a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX jet slammed into the Java Sea about 12 minutes after take-off from Jakarta on a routine one-hour flight.

That crash -- and a subsequent fatal flight 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 two deadly crashes.

However, Indonesia's aviation sector has long suffered from a reputation for poor safety, and its airlines were once banned from entering US and European airspace.

In 2014, an AirAsia plane crashed with the loss of 162 lives.

Domestic investigators' final report showed a chronically faulty component in a rudder control system, poor maintenance and the pilots' inadequate response were major factors in what was supposed to be a routine flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

(With inputs from AFP)

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