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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Aviators say Boeing training manual did not mention problem that may have downed Lion Air passenger jet. AP

Indonesian plane crashes into sea off Jakarta

All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were likely killed in the accident, rescue officials said Monday, as they announced they had found human remains and would continue the grim search through the night.

The Boeing 737 Max 8, which went into service just months ago, vanished off radar 13 minutes after take off and plunged into the Java sea moments after it asked to return to the Indonesian capital.

Websites that display flight data showed the plane speeding up as it suddenly lost altitude in the minutes before it disappeared, with authorities saying witnesses saw the jet plunge into the water.

"My prediction is that nobody survived because the victims that we found, their bodies were no longer intact and it's been hours so it is likely 189 people have died," search and rescue agency operational director Bambang Suryo Aji told reporters.

Some 40 divers are part of about 150 personnel at the scene, authorities said, with the plane wreckage some 30 to 40 metres deep in the water.

Earlier, video footage apparently filmed at the scene of the crash showed a slick of fuel on the surface of the water and pictures showed what appeared to be an emergency slide and bits of wreckage bearing Lion Air's logo.

The carrier acknowledged that the jet had previously been grounded for unspecified repairs.

"It's a really mystery what could have happened," said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of industry publication Flightglobal.

"Hopefully they will be able to locate the (cockpit) voice data recorders."

Flight JT610 was en route to Pangkal Pinang in the Bangka Belitung Islands.

Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee said there were 178 adult passengers, one child, two infants, two pilots and six cabin crew on board flight JT 610. One of the pilots was Indian and there was an Italian national aboard.

Images filmed at Pangkal Pinang's main airport showed families of passengers crying and hugging each other, with some calling out to god.

"This morning he called asking about our youngest son," said a sobbing Ermayati, referring to her 45-year-old husband Muhammed Syafii, who was on board.

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The downed plane had only gone into service in August.

The pilot and co-pilot had more than 11,000 hours of flying time between them and had recent medical checkups and drug testing, Lion Air said..

Lion Air chief Edward Sirait said the plane had an unspecified technical issue fixed in Bali before it was flown back to Jakarta.

"Engineers in Jakarta received notes and did another repair before it took off" on Monday, Edward Sirait said, calling it "normal procedure".

Jakarta-based Lion Air is Indonesia’s largest budget carrier. The airline has been involved in a number of incidents since starting operations in 2000.

Last year one of its Boeing jets collided with a Wings Air plane as it landed at Kualanamu airport on the island of Sumatra, although no one was injured.

In May 2016, two Lion Air planes collided at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport. A month earlier, a plane operated by Batik Air – part of the Lion Group – clipped a TransNusa plane.

In 2013, a Lion Air jet with a rookie pilot at the controls undershot the runway and crashed into the sea in Bali, splitting the plane in two. Several people were injured in the crash, although no one was killed.

Indonesia's air travel industry is booming, with the number of domestic passengers growing significantly over the past decade, but it has acquired a reputation for poor regulation.

Last year, the Indonesian air traffic controllers association revealed that the rate of take-off and landings in Jakarta allowed by state-run air navigation company AirNav was more than the airport could handle, increasing the chance of accidents.

The country's carriers have in the past faced years-long bans from entering European Union and US airspace over their safety records.

In February 2012, Lion Air placed an order for 201 of the in-development 737 MAX and 29 of the extended range 737-900 in a $22.4 billion deal valued at list price.

The carrier flies 183 routes locally as well to some overseas destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and China, according to its website. Its unit Malindo Air was the first in the world to put the 737 Max plane into service.

The last major air accident in Indonesia occurred in December 2014 when an AirAsia Indonesia Airbus A320 aircraft crashed into the water after taking off from Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board.