Hundreds of rescuers were searching for survivors in the Java Sea but the plane’s fuselage hadn’t been located. Debris, life vests and a cellphone have been found in the water about two miles from where radar coordinates show the plane crashed.
The aircraft carried 181 passengers, including three children, two pilots and six flight attendants.
Flight JT-610 was a new Boeing 737 MAX 8 that took off from Soekarano-Hatta International Airport in Greater Jakarta, bound for Pangkai Pinan on the Indonesian island of Bangka.
Pilot Bhavye Suneja, an Indian national with more than 6,000 flight hours, said he wanted to return to the airport right after take-off. The plane disappeared from radar and a tugboat crew reported debris about eight miles north of Tangerang.
The fact that the pilot had enough time to tell air traffic controllers that he wanted to return is significant, former crash investigator Alan Diehl told CNN.
“Air safety investigators will be looking at four broad categories — mechanical, human, weather and criminal,” Diehl said. “It appears now that weather was not a factor but other than that, everything is on the table.”
Australia issued a warning to government officials not to fly Lion Air after the crash.
“This decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear.”
Lion Air acquired the aircraft in August and had logged 800 flight hours with it prior to the crash.
Boeing released a statement saying it will provide technical assistance to crash investigators.
“We express our concern for those on board, and extend heartfelt sympathies to their families and loved ones,” it said.
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 is the best-selling aircraft of all time and the latest MAX versions are more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.