Indonesia deployed divers on Wednesday around the site of an aircraft that crashed into the Java Sea with 189 people on board after picking up a signal searchers believe reveals the plane’s location.
Armed forces Chief Hadi Tjahjanto said a search-and-rescue effort identified the possible seabed location of the downed jet. Debris and some human remains were found previously, but not the main fuselage and black boxes.
“We strongly believe that we have found a part of the fuselage of JT610,” Hadi told TV One, referring to the flight.
The search team had the location coordinates but now had to confirm it was the fuselage, he added.
A 22-metre long object was found at a depth of 32 metres, the navy said. Naval officer Haris Djoko Nugroho said divers would go down to the site once a side-scan sonar provided a more detailed picture of the object.
The aircraft crashed into the sea with 189 people onboard on Monday. There were no survivors.
The search was expanded on Wednesday to 15 nautical miles from the point where the plane lost contact, according officials.
Ground staff lost contact with Lion Air flight JT610, shortly after the Boeing 737 MAX 8 took off in the morning from the capital Jakarta on its way to the tin-mining town of Pangkal Pinang.
Indonesia sent teams of divers to search for the fuselage while also using “pinger locators” to find the cockpit recorders and find out why an almost-new plane crashed into the sea only 13 minutes after take off.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s transport minister removed the technical director of Lion Air and several technicians after the crash.
“Today we dismiss [the director] from his position and his duty,” Budi Karya Sumadi said, citing the accident as the reason. He said technicians were also dismissed, Antara news agency reported.
The deputy of the national transport safety committee has said the plane had technical problems on its previous flight – from the city of Denpasar on Bali island on Sunday – including an issue over “unreliable airspeed”.
The pilot had asked to return to base shortly after take off. Investigators are trying to determine why he issued the request.
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo visited Jakarta’s port on Tuesday where the pile of debris has been laid out on tarpaulins, examining the items which include mangled seats, bags, shoes and flight attendant uniforms.
Officials said human remains were collected in 37 body bags after sweeps of the crash site, roughly 15km off the coast.
Dozens of relatives of those on board gathered at a police hospital where body bags were brought for forensic doctors to try to identify victims, including by taking saliva swabs from family members for DNA tests.
“I keep praying for a miracle although logically, the plane has sunk in the ocean,” said Toni Priyono Adhi, whose daughter was on the flight. “But as a parent, I want a miracle.”
The accident was the first to be reported involving the widely sold Boeing 737 MAX.
Privately owned Lion Air, founded in 1999, said the aircraft, which had been in operation since August, was airworthy. Its pilot and co-pilot together amassed 11,000 hours of flying time.
Lion Air said it would meet a team from Boeing on Wednesday to discuss what happened. “We have many questions for them … This was a new plane,” Lion Air Director Daniel Putut told reporters.