Rescue workers have retrieved six bodies from the sea where an Indonesian passenger plane crashed close to the capital Jakarta on Monday, 13 minutes after take-off.
The Lion Air flight JT 610 had been carrying 189 people, including three children, when it disappeared from radar during a short flight from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang on the Indonesian island of Bangka, according to Basarnas, Indonesia's national search and rescue agency.
The plane, a new Boeing 737 MAX 8, was carrying 181 passengers, as well as six cabin crew members and two pilots.
The recovered bodies have been taken to a hospital in east Jakarta, said Bambang Suryo Aji, director of operations for Basarnas.
Aji told a news conference that rescue workers had found debris appearing to be the plane's tail. The main wreckage had still not been located. Search and rescue teams were working against high waves and strong currents, in an area spanning 150 nautical miles, added Aji. Underwater robots were being used in the search effort.
The flight made a request to air traffic control to return to the airport about 12 miles out from take-off, but did not indicate there was any emergency, Yohanes Sirait, spokesman for AirNav Indonesia, the agency that oversees air traffic navigation, told CNN.
The spokesman added that the aircraft would have been given priority landing upon such a request, but that air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane shortly after. The plane had not turned back, according to the radar.
The plane had reported problems the night before on a flight from Denpasar to Jakarta, Lion Air's CEO Edward Sirait told local media TV1 in an interview. Sirait said engineers had checked and repaired the problem and reported that the plane was ready to fly.
Speaking to reporters at the carrier's headquarters in Jakarta, Sirait said the plane was “airworthy” and that the pilot had carried out all preflight inspections according to procedure. He added that the pilots had passed mandatory drug screening.
The plane took off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, greater Jakarta, at 6:21 a.m., and had been due to land at around 7:30 a.m. in Pangkal Pinan, the largest city on Bangka.
Authorities said they are still trying to locate the emergency locator transmitter, which is currently not transmitting.
Lion Air was added to the European Union's blacklist of banned carriers in July 2007, and removed from the list in June 2016, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
The low-cost carrier was one of dozens of Indonesian airlines banned from EU airspace in recent years amid safety concerns.
In 2007, the EU banned all 51 Indonesian airlines from its airspace, following a series of crashes and concerns over falling safety standards.
That same year, a Garuda Indonesia plane with 140 people on board overshot the runway in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta and burst into flames, killing 21 people, Reuters reported.
However, standards have since improved and major carriers – including Lion Air – were gradually removed from the blacklist over the years. All remaining Indonesian airlines on the list were cleared earlier this year.