Indonesian investigators yesterday began working to determine what caused a new Lion Air passenger jet to miss a runway while landing on the Indonesian island of Bali, crashing into the sea without causing any fatalities among the 108 on board.
The Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee is examining the wreckage of the Boeing 737-800 that snapped in half before coming to a stop in shallow water near Bali’s airport on Saturday, Indonesian Ministry of Transportation spokesman Bambang Ervan said.
He said aviation authorities had already removed the plane’s flight data recorder and were planning to tow the aircraft to a beach. Divers were searching for the cockpit voice recorder in the tail. Experts are examining what could have caused the crash, including whether wind shear may have played a role.
All 101 passengers and seven crew members were safely evacuated from the budget carrier’s flight, which came from Bandung, the capital of West Java Province. Some swam from the wreckage, while others were plucked from the water by rescuers in rubber boats. Dozens suffered injuries, but most had been released from local hospitals as of yesterday.
“I couldn’t wait to land in Bali when the cabin suddenly turned dark. I heard a sound like an explosion and water was coming in,” said Irawati, a 60-year-old woman who uses only one name, like many Indonesians.
“I heard people shouting frantically: ‘The plane crashed! Get out! Get out!’ I did not even have the energy to move my body,” she said. “I was so weak and frightened, and I was asking a flight attendant for help before I passed out.”
Irawati said from her hospital bed that when she regained consciousness, the pilot and co-pilot were putting a life jacket on her and helping her down a rubber ladder. She was then pulled onto a surfboard by rescuers. She suffered neck injuries.
Another survivor, Andi Prasetyo said there was no warning of any problem.
“The cabin crew had already announced that we would be landing shortly, and I was so excited when I saw the ocean getting closer, but suddenly ... it fell,” he said. “I can’t believe that the plane actually landed on the sea and everything changed to dark. It was full of horrific screaming. None of us remembered about the life jackets under our seats. Everybody rushed to get out of the plane.”
Officials said there were three foreigners on board — two Singaporeans and a French national — all of whom suffered slight injuries.
Lion Air spokesman Edward Sirait said the plane crashed about 50m ahead of the runway. The weather was cloudy and rainy at the time of the incident.
He said the Boeing 737-800 Next Generation plane was received by the airline last month and was declared airworthy.
Given that the aircraft was new, Sydney-based aviation expert Tom Ballantyne said a technical or mechanical problem would be unlikely. He said it was fortunate that the plane landed flat in shallow water rather than nose-diving or hitting deep water, where it could have quickly been submerged.
“I’m surprised. The airplane split in two upon impact,” Ballantyne said. “It was coming into land and hit the water very hard. It’s a miracle nobody was killed.”
It was unclear whether human error may have played a role in the accident, and Sirait said the pilot was experienced, having logged 10,000 flying hours.
However, Indonesian aviation analyst Ruth Simatupang, a former investigator at the National Safety Transportation Committee, suspects some sort of miscalculation involving the landing.
“Something was obviously wrong with the pilot and wind shear is a possibility that could lead to an unstable approach,” she said.