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Indonesia orders inspection of all Boeing 737 Max 8 in country

All 189 passengers feared dead as rescuers retrieve belongings and human remains

Indonesia's Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi speaks to the media on the rescue operation of Lion Air flight JT610 at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta.    © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Indonesia's Transportation Ministry has ordered its airlines to conduct emergency inspections on their Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft following the crash of Lion Air flight JT610 on Monday, as the search for the ill-fated plane and its black box recorder continues into a second day.

Flight JT610 was flown on a Max 8 plane, a new addition to Lion Air's fleet only in August. The ministry will also launch a special audit on Lion Air from Tuesday to see if there were problems with its management system.

According to the ministry, Lion Air has 10 remaining Max 8s, while Garuda Indonesia, the country's flagship carrier, has one."We're inspecting the [Max 8s] to see if there is a problem or not. With the inspection, that automatically means these planes [should] not be operational," Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said at a press conference on Tuesday.

"There will be surely a sanction," he said. "But as to whom the sanction will be imposed -- the management, the group or the planes -- will depend on KNKT's investigation. We cannot impose a sanction at this early stage." KNKT refers to Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee.

The state-of-the-art Boeing 737 Max 8 has only been in commercial use since 2017, and the Lion Air crash marks its first disaster.

All 189 people on board are presumed dead after the aircraft lost contact with the ground only 13 minutes after takeoff before plunging into Karawang Bay in West Java Province, about 15 km off the coast northeast of Jakarta.

Iharyo Satmiko, KNKT committee deputy chief, said that the crashed aircraft, in its previous flight, had technical issues including "unreliable airspeed," reported Reuters.

Data from Flightrader24.com shows that the aircraft flew to Jakarta from Denpasar in Bali as flight JT43 on Sunday. Local media have said that a TV reporter on board the flight from Bali had posted on social media that the flight was delayed, with the engines stopping multiple times and the air conditioning not working.

After taking off from the holiday island, the aircraft recorded an unusual 925-foot drop over 27 seconds in the first minutes of the flight when it was supposed to be climbing, data from Flightrader24.com shows. The plane also experienced fluctuations in airspeed and maintained an altitude of 28,000 feet. Other flights on the same route earlier in the week operated by Lion Air using different Boeing aircraft cruised at over 30,000 feet.

The pilot of flight JT610, bound for Pangkal Pinang in the Bangka-Belitung tin-mining region, had asked to return to base shortly after takeoff.

Eyewitness accounts reported by Reuters said that the plane fell almost horizontally, with its nose slightly down, making no noise as it fell. There was an explosive sound as it plunged nose-first into the sea, followed by a column of smoke, witnesses said.The last recorded speed for JT610 on Flightradar24.com was 345 knots, or over 600 kilometers per hour.

Lion Air Group President Edward Sirait admitted on Monday that there was a technical problem during the plane's previous flight, but it had been fixed. He added that the company had no plans to halt usage of other Max 8s in their fleet.

In a statement on Tuesday, Lion Air said that it has received confirmation from Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency, or Basarnas, that human remains had been collected in 24 body bags after a search of the crash site.

Indonesian authorities are hoping that the black box recorder from the plane will help them understand the problem flight JT 610 encountered. But they are having difficulty recovering the box as well as the aircraft itself -- where victims are still believed to be trapped -- as the sea around the crash site has been rough.

Established in 1999, Lion Air Group grew rapidly as more people in Asia started traveling by air. "It ... has placed huge orders for airplanes," said Ryu Tanji, professor at Japan's J.F. Oberlin University and an aviation industry expert. According to Tanji, the group operates 227 planes, and has orders for 443 more, receiving 40 to 60 aircraft per year.

Historically speaking, safety at an airline is most at risk when it is rapidly expanding," the professor said. "It becomes very difficult to prepare an adequate corporate structure and system, which leads to lower safety." The professor added that since the aircraft in question was new to Lion Air, inexperience as well as pilot error might have played a role in the crash.

Boeing updated their statement saying it "is providing technical assistance at the request and under the direction of government authorities investigating the accident."

Passengers have already started shunning Lion Air. According to Australia's foreign ministry, "Australian government officials and contractors have been instructed not to fly on Lion Air or their subsidiary airlines." The ministry added that "the decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear."

Nikkei staff writer Erwida Maulia in Jakarta contributed to this article.

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