Crashed Boeing Jet’s Possible Location Found in Widened Search

(Bloomberg) -- Indonesia may be close to finding the main wreckage of the Lion Air plane that crashed earlier this week into the Java Sea, as the hunt for clues to what caused the country’s worst air disaster since 1997 continued into a third day.

The search team stumbled on “quite a large” object, about 20 meters long, Haris Djoko Nugroho, commander of Indonesia’s naval ship Rigel said Wednesday. The crew has zeroed in on an area where the plane’s black box is believed to be located, National Military Chief Hadi Tjahjanto told reporters.

“We have located the area where we strongly believe the plane’s black box is. The large parts of the aircraft should be nearby,” Tjahjanto said in Jakarta. “We have also found in-flight magazines, clothes during the search and we are confident the remains of the aircraft are near.”

The National Search and Rescue Agency expects to find the black boxes and the main wreckage of the jet on Wednesday night, its chief M. Syaugi, said at the same briefing.

The ill-fated plane had a technical issue with its airspeed and altitude readings during its previous flight from Bali to Jakarta, but it was fixed by the airline, Lion Air’s spokesman Danang Mandala Prihantoro said. While that could be a potential focus area for investigators, the carrier said it was firing its technical director under instructions from the transport ministry.

Crashed Boeing Jet’s Possible Location Found in Widened Search

The almost new Boeing Co. 737 Max 8 plane crashed a few minutes after takeoff from Jakarta airport early Monday, slamming into the water at high speed, according to preliminary data transmitted from the aircraft to the ground and reported by FlightRadar24. One of the jet’s pilots had asked to return to land, and the flight track showed variations of speed and altitude, suggesting they may have been dealing with some kind of problem.

The jet carried 189 people on board and all are feared dead.

The recovery of black boxes -- which monitor plane’s electronics and mechanical systems as well as record the words of the pilots -- are crucial to unravel the mystery behind the dive.

The sea-bound search for the crashed aircraft’s debris evoked images of the years-long and as yet unsuccessful search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared over the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean.

Scouring in the shallow waters off Jakarta where the plane went down has so far yielded little else than small aircraft pieces, body parts and passengers’ personal belongings. It is too early to determine what led to the disaster, Lion Air owner Rusdi Kirana said. Authorities expanded the search area Wednesday.

The Lion Air crash is the first fatal incident for Boeing’s Max model, the latest version in the Chicago-based planemaker’s popular single-aisle 737 family. While Indonesia has ordered its airlines to check Max planes after the crash, other carriers in Asia that fly the plane indicated they hadn’t been prompted to do so by Boeing.

SilkAir, a unit of Singapore Airlines Ltd., said it is “closely monitoring developments” after the crash. India’s aviation safety regulator said Tuesday that it reviewed the performance of the six aircraft operated by local carriers and hadn’t found significant technical issues. Those planes have completed a cumulative 4,000 flight hours since their induction in June 2018, the regulator said.

Lion Air said Tuesday that it’s too early to decide on the future of the some dozen Max 8 planes it flies. The plane that crashed had clocked 800 hours of flight time since delivery in August.

A special inspection of the Max 8 planes ordered by Indonesia after the crash showed no technical issues with the jets operated by Lion Air and PT Garuda Indonesia and found all the 11 aircraft in service as airworthy, the Transport Ministry said.

Crashed Boeing Jet’s Possible Location Found in Widened Search

Indonesia has dispatched more than 30 vessels and over 800 soldiers and civilians to look for the Lion Air plane. The mission is using remote operated underwater vehicles, ping locator and side-scan sonar in areas divided into one meant for diving and another for scanning.

A team of investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, Boeing and engine maker CFM International -- a joint venture between General Electric Co. and Safran SA -- will assist the probe spearheaded by Indonesian authorities.

The plane dropped from an altitude of about 4,850 feet (1,479 meters) in about 21 seconds. Based on what appears to be a high-speed dive into the water at about 350 miles an hour -- far above the typical rate for a descent -- the body of the plane might have broken up into pieces as it plowed into the seabed, burying some of the crucial parts, according to Shadrach Nababan, a former investigator at Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Board.

“The biggest question that I have so far is why the search and rescue parties have not been able to detect the ping from the black box,” said Nababan, who investigated the 1997 crash of a SilkAir Boeing 737-300 that plummeted into a river at high speed in South Sumatra. “This is puzzling.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.