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Rescue operation launched after Indonesian passenger plane “lost contact”

A passenger plane with more than 60 people on board “lost contact” with air traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on Saturday, a transport ministry spokesman said.

Authorities launched a search and rescue operation after the Sriwijaya SJ182 flight disappeared over the Java Sea minutes after taking off for Pontianak, the capital of Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, spokesman Adita Iravati said.

Indonesian Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi later told a virtual news conference that 50 passengers and 12 crews were on board. Among them are seven children and three babies, he said.

“We are sorry for this incident,”

; he said. “Please pray for the blessings of all people so that the search and rescue process goes smoothly.”

Indonesian President Joko Vidodo had instructed the government’s search and rescue agency, Basarnas, to “increase” search efforts at sea north of Jakarta, he added.

Tracking service Flightradar24 said in its Twitter feed that the plane “lost more than 10,000 feet in less than a minute, about 4 minutes after takeoff” from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta.

A crisis center for relatives was set up at Supadio International Airport in Pontianak, where the plane was to land.

The plane is a nearly 27-year-old Boeing 737-500, according to registration data included in the tracking data, Flightradar24 reported.

The plane was last heard at 2:40 p.m. local time (2:40 p.m. ET), Iravati said.

Yusuf Latief, a spokesman for the Basarnas rescue agency, told NBC News that the ships had been sent to the Thousand Islands area, a chain north of the coast of Jakarta, where the plane lost contact.

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A statement from Sriwijaya Air said that “it is still in contact with various related parties to obtain more detailed information” and that “management is still communicating and investigating this issue”.

Founded in 2003, the airline is one of the discount carriers in Indonesia, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago country with more than 260 million people, has been plagued by land, sea and air accidents due to overcrowded ferries, aging infrastructure and poorly implemented safety standards.

Between 2007 and 2016, the US Federal Aviation Administration lowered its safety rating in Indonesia to category 2, which means that its regulatory system is inadequate. Indonesian officials say they have worked hard to bring safety in line with international standards.

Indonesian soldiers at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport lost contact after a Sriwijaya Air plane carrying more than 50 people on board after takeoff.WILLY KURNIAWAN / Reuters

But this is the second air crash off the coast of Indonesia in just over two years. A Boeing 737 Max operated by the Indonesian airline Lion Air crashed near Jakarta in October 2018, killing all 189 passengers and crew.

David Sidman, Boeing’s communications director, said in a statement that the company “is aware of Jakarta’s media reports and is closely monitoring the situation.” Adding “We’re working to gather more information.”

On Thursday, Boeing agreed to pay $ 2.5 billion to settle a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and admit that officials misled regulators about the safety of its 737 Max, which suffered two fatal crashes shortly after entering airline.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Matthew Mulligan contributed.

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