Indonesia searches for clues in crash of Lion Air's brand-new Boeing jet with 189 aboard

Key Points
  • Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff Monday, the Indonesian airline says.
  • The flight had 189 people aboard, including crew.
  • The plane was a new Boeing 737 MAX 8, a variant of the U.S. manufacturer's best-selling aircraft.
Brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes into Java Sea
Brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes into Java Sea

Indonesian transportation and safety officials are searching for voice and data recorders and other clues to determine the cause of the crash of Lion Air's brand-new Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet, the first accident of its kind for the variant of the top-selling plane.

The plane crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Lion Air said.

There were 189 people on board the flight to Pangkal Pinang, according to Indonesia's Transportation Ministry. Divers of the country's search and rescue agency were looking for passengers and the plane. Lion Air had the jet in service for just over two months.

At least 10 bodies were recovered at the site, the Transportation Ministry said in statement.

Government safety officials will search for cockpit voice and flight data recorders to help determine the cause of the crash. One of the pilots of Flight 610 asked to return to the airport after the plane took off, Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesia's transport safety committee, told reporters, according to Reuters.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are each sending investigators to assist Indonesia with the crash probe, U.S. aviation officials told CNBC.

The reason Lion Air Flight 610 went down is still unknown. The airline said in a statement that it had been using the plane since Aug. 15. Data from flight-tracking site FlightRadar24, showed the jet had reached an altitude of 5,000, but showed a steep dive within 10 minutes of takeoff.

Boeing, which made the 737 MAX 8 jet, said wreckage of the twin-engine, narrow-body plane has been detected and that it "stands ready to provide technical assistance to the accident investigation." The company directed all other questions to the Indonesian transportation safety committee.

"We express our concern for those on board, and extend heartfelt sympathies to their families and loved ones," Boeing said.

The plane is a new model of its best-selling 737, which first debuted in 1967 and is Boeing's top seller. The company introduced the 737 MAX family of aircraft in 2011, touting its quieter engines and better fuel efficiency as selling points. That year, Lion Air ordered 230 737s, including 201 737 MAX jets, according to Boeing.

The aircraft manufacturer has delivered more than 200 of the 737 MAX jets worldwide and it plans to increase production of its 737 jets to 57 a month from 52 next year to keep up with strong demand. It has an order backlog of more than 4,600 Boeing 737s, it said on its website.

Southwest Airlines also flies the 737 MAX 8 and said it is in touch with Boeing "and will closely monitor the situation and any findings of this tragic event."

Southwest had 23 in its fleet as of the end of September and plans to take delivery of nine more in the fourth quarter. It first took delivery of this type of plane in October of last year.

"The entire Southwest Family extends our Southwest Heart to Lion Air and offers our deepest condolences to each of the families and loved ones affected by the tragic accident in Indonesia," the airline said in a statement. "We maintain our 737 MAX 8 aircraft in accordance with our FAA-approved maintenance program, originally developed, and continually maintained, in partnership with Boeing."

American Airlines said it has 15 737 MAX 8 planes in its fleet and 85 left on order.

"American Airlines extends our condolences to the families and friends of those on board Lion Air 610. We continue to closely monitor the investigation via Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board," said American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein.

Shares of Boeing were down about 7 percent in afternoon trading, the biggest laggard in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

A spokeswoman for engine maker CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and France's Safran, said the plane was powered by its CFM LEAP 1B engines and that the company is also ready to assist both the Indonesian and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Lion Air is one of Indonesia's youngest and fastest-growing airlines, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations. The airline is a major customer of Boeing. The privately-held airline's CEO Edward Sirait told reporters that the plane had a technical problem on a previous flight from Denpasar to Jakarta but that it "had been resolved according to procedure," according to Reuters. He said the airline has 11 aircraft of the same model and that the issue was limited to that one plane.

The incident draws attention to Lion Air's safety record. The Aviation Safety Network, part of the Flight Safety Foundation, listed 10 incidents or accidents involving Lion Air's planes since 2002. In 2013, one of its Boeing 737-800 jets missed the runway while landing on the resort island of Bali, crashing into the sea without causing any fatalities among the 108 people on board.

The European Union removed Lion Air from its air safety blacklist in June 2016.

Reuters contributed to this report.