By Jon Emont, Andrew Tangel and Doug Cameron 

A Boeing Co. passenger plane carrying 62 people crashed into the Java Sea on Saturday, Indonesian authorities said.

The Sriwijaya Air jet lost contact with air-traffic controllers and disappeared from radar minutes after taking off from the country's capital, Jakarta, transport ministry officials said. It was on a 90-minute route from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia's Borneo island, and went missing at 2:40 p.m. local time, a spokeswoman for the ministry, Adita Irawati, said.

The aircraft involved was a Boeing 737-500, according to Theodora Erika, a spokeswoman for Sriwijaya Air, which is an Indonesian carrier. The aircraft isn't the 737 MAX, the newest version of Boeing's single-aisle jet family, which had been grounded nearly two years ago following two deadly crashes. In recent weeks, the 737 MAX has resumed passenger service with some airlines in countries including Brazil and the U.S.

Boeing said in a statement Saturday that it was aware of the media reports from Jakarta and was closely monitoring the situation. CFM International, which made the jet's engines, said it was providing technical assistance to the authorities and the airline. CFM is a joint venture between General Electric Co. and Safran SA.

The Sriwijaya flight SJ182 departed at 2:36 p.m. local time, climbing to a maximum altitude of 10,900 feet about four minutes later and then beginning a steep descent, according to aviation data provider FlightRadar24. The last data signal from the aircraft was at 2:40 p.m., at an altitude of 250 feet, according to FlightRadar24, which cites commercially available flight data that airplanes transmit to ground receivers and satellites.

Sriwijaya Air began operating the aircraft in 2012. Immediately before that airline, the plane's operator was United Airlines, according to FlightRadar24. Boeing first delivered the plane in 1994 to Continental Airlines, a predecessor carrier to Chicago-based United Airlines Holdings Inc.

Indonesian officials said at a news conference that of the 62 people on board, 12 were crew members. The plane was believed to have crashed around Kepulauan Seribu, a series of islands near Jakarta, the country's search and rescue agency said. The agency said it had received reports from the local community that debris had been found in the area and that it had launched an investigation.

Another government agency involved in the recovery said it had prepared equipment for an underwater search, with the goal of locating the airplane's black box on Sunday.

Indonesia television showed footage of passengers' relatives crying at the airport while they waited for updates from authorities. One elderly woman was seen making phone calls while rocking back and forth in her chair in grief.

"Our prayers are with all passengers, crew and families," Sriwijaya Air said in a statement.

In November, U.S. aviation regulators cleared the 737 MAX to fly again after they approved a number of safety fixes, which include new software and training changes related to a flight-control system largely blamed in the two crashes, and revised pilot training procedures. That flight-control system was new to the MAX and not on older 737 models.

The two MAX accidents, in Indonesia in October 2018 and in Ethiopia in March 2019, together claimed 346 lives. Boeing this week agreed to a $2.5 billion deal that included a fine as well as compensation to victims' families and airlines to resolve a U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation and admit that employees deceived aviation regulators about safety issues that led to the twin MAX crashes.

The 737-500 involved in the latest incident belongs to an older generation of the aircraft known as the Classic that seats between 110 and 132 passengers. Boeing rolled out the last Classic from its production line in 1999.

Indonesia, an archipelagic nation of 270 million, has seen a rapid surge in air travel over the past decade as incomes have risen and people have sought out faster forms of interisland transit. The country has suffered a number of air tragedies.

Before the 2018 Lion Air crash, an AirAsia jetliner went down amid stormy weather in 2014, killing all 162 people aboard. In 2013, a Lion Air flight crashed into the shallow waters off Bali, though all passengers survived.

Statistics from the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, showed that Indonesian commercial flights had an accident rate around three times higher than the global average from 2008 to 2010, but by 2017 their record had come closer to the global norm after a government campaign to improve the country's air safety. In 2019, Indonesia had an accident rate below the global average, according to the ICAO statistics.

Write to Jon Emont at jonathan.emont@wsj.com, Andrew Tangel at Andrew.Tangel@wsj.com and Doug Cameron at doug.cameron@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 09, 2021 12:16 ET (17:16 GMT)

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