JAKARTA: Retrieving the cockpit voice and data recorders of Lion Air flight JT610 has been the focus for investigators in Indonesia, as they try to determine the cause of the crash on Monday morning (Oct 29).
The plane took off from Jakarta and was heading to Pangkal Pinang on the island of Bangka, which lies east of Sumatra.
A total of 181 passengers – including two infants and one child – were on board the flight, the agency said. Two pilots and six crew members were also on board.
The finance ministry said about 20 of its employees were on the plane.
Officials are 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.
Video footage apparently filmed at the scene of the crash showed a fuel slick on the surface of the water.
The head of Indonesia's transport safety committee said he could not confirm the cause of the crash until the recovery of the plane's black boxes, as the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder are known.
"We are preparing to depart to the location," said Soerjanto Tjahjono. "The plane is so modern, it transmits data from the plane, and that we will review too. But the most important is the black box."
The weather at the time of the crash was clear, Tjahjono added.
Debris thought to be from the plane, including aircraft seats, was found near an offshore refining facility in the Java Sea, an official of state energy firm Pertamina said.
The effort to find the wreckage and retrieve the black boxes represents a major challenge for investigators in Indonesia, where an AirAsia Airbus jet crashed in the Java Sea in 2015. Flight QZ8501 was on en route from Surabaya to Singapore when it crashed on Dec 28, 2014.
Under international rules, the US National Transporation Safety Board will automatically assist with the inquiry into Monday's crash, backed up by technical advisers from Boeing and US-French engine maker CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and Safran.
The accident is the first to be reported involving the widely sold Boeing 737 MAX, an updated, more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer's workhorse single-aisle jet.
US-based Boeing said it was "deeply saddened" by news of the crash.
"We express our concern for those on board, and extend heartfelt sympathies to their families and loved ones," it said in a statement.
"Boeing stands ready to provide technical assistance to the accident investigation."