JAKARTA: Indonesian rescuers have begun retrieving body parts after a Lion Air plane crashed into the sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta on Monday (Oct 29).
All 189 people on board were "likely" killed, said Indonesia's search and rescue agency.
"My prediction is that nobody survived because the victims that we found, their bodies were no longer intact and it's been hours so it is likely 189 people have died," the agency's operational director Bambang Suryo Aji told reporters.
"We need to find the main wreckage," he added.
About 40 divers were part of about 150 personnel at the scene, authorities said, with the plane in water about 30 to 40 metres deep.
Divers had stopped the search for the night, but sonar vessels would continue hunting for the fuselage, where many of the victims were believed to be trapped, according to the operational director. An underwater drone is also trying to find the wreckage, he added.
Flight JT610 plunged into the sea 13 minutes after leaving Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. Its destination was Pangkal Pinang, east of Sumatra, on Bangka island.
Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) said there were 178 adult passengers, one child, two infants, two pilots and six cabin crew on board.
The nationalities of all the passengers have not been disclosed.
However, one Italian national was aboard the plane which was flown by an Indian pilot, the transportation ministry said.
At least 23 government officials, four employees of state tin miner PT Timah and three employees of a Timah subsidiary, were on the plane. The finance ministry said around 20 of its employees were on the plane.
Photos posted on the Twitter account of the national search and rescue agency Basarnas showed six body bags being brought to shore at Tanjung Priuk port.
Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said nine body bags had been taken to a hospital for identification, though officials said they contained body parts, not intact remains. A Reuters witness saw more body bags arriving at the port.
Earlier, video footage apparently filmed at the scene of the crash showed a slick of fuel on the surface of the water and pictures showed what appeared to be an emergency slide and bits of wreckage bearing Lion Air's logo.
The agency added that debris was also collected from the sea and brought along with the body bags.
Items such as handphones, handbags, identity cards and life vests were found in waters about 30 metres to 35 metres deep near where the plane lost contact with air traffic control.
"It's really a mystery what could have happened," said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of industry publication Flightglobal.
"Hopefully they will be able to locate the (cockpit) voice data recorders."
A Lion Air executive said the airline had flown 98 relatives of the victims to Jakarta from Pangkal Pinang.
Images filmed at Pangkal Pinang's main airport showed families of passengers crying and hugging each other, with some yelling "Oh God".
"This morning he called asking about our youngest son," said a sobbing Ermayati, referring to her 45-year-old husband Muhammed Syafii, who was on board.
Also on board were half a dozen colleagues of Sony Setiawan, who was supposed to be on the flight but missed check-in due to bad traffic.
"I know my friends were on that flight," he told AFP.
Setiawan said he was only informed about his lucky escape after he arrived in Pangkal Pinang on another flight at 9.40am.
"My family was in shock and my mother cried, but I told them I was safe, so I just have to be grateful."
Lion Air said the plane had only gone into service in August.
The pilot and co-pilot had more than 11,000 hours of flying time between them and had recent medical checkups and drug testing, it added.
Lion Air Group CEO Edward Sirait said that the plane had a technical problem on a previous flight, but that had been resolved.
"This plane previously flew from Denpasar (Bali) to Cengkareng (Jakarta). There was a report of a technical issue which had been resolved according to procedure."
Investigators will focus on recovering the cockpit voice and data recorders and building up a picture of the brand-new plane's technical status, the condition and training of the crew as well as weather and air traffic recordings.
Sirait declined to specify the nature of the issue but said none of its other aircraft of that model had the same problem. Lion had operated 11 Boeing 737 MAX 8s and it had no plan to ground the rest of them, he said.
President Joko Widodo told a news conference authorities were focusing on the search and rescue, and he called for the country's prayers.
Boeing was deeply saddened by the loss, it said in a statement, and was ready to provide technical assistance for the investigation.