The Sriwijaya Boeing 737-500 Crash – What Is The Latest?

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Yesterday, the world of commercial aviation was shocked by the news that a Sriwijaya Boeing 737-500 had lost radar contact following its departure from Jakarta. The 26-year old aircraft, which bears the registration PK-CLC, had 62 passengers and crew onboard. It had been flying a domestic service from the Indonesian capital to Pontianak, numbered SJ182.

Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500
The 26-year old Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500 (not pictured) lost radar contact yesterday. It had departed Jakarta just four minutes previously. Photo: 馬鱈作定 | バタラサクティvia Flickr

Sudden descent into the water

In the aftermath of the aircraft’s disappearance from the radar, it soon became apparent that PK-CLC had crashed into the Java Sea, to the north of Jakarta. Strangely enough, it appears to have come down not far from the location of the Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX crash in October 2018. However, it is important to stress that the aircraft involved in this instance did not belong to the MAX family.

What quickly became alarming about this incident was the rate at which the aircraft appeared to descend before losing radar contact. According to data from FlightRadar24.com, PK-CLC dropped from 10,900 feet to just 250 feet in under a minute. Another striking factor is that the flight appeared not to have sent out a distress signal at any stage, despite the peril of the situation.

SJ182-Flight-Data
This graph shows how SJ182 gained and then suddenly lost altitude during its four-minute flight. Graph: Simple Flying | Data: FlightRadar24.com

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Debris recovered

In the hours that followed the crash, local media began broadcasting images of what appeared to be small amounts of unconfirmed aircraft debris from near the suspected crash site. This initially amounted to “some cables, a piece of jeans, and pieces of metal on the water,” according to Deutsche Welle.

Multiple witnesses in the local area claimed to have seen or heard “at least one explosion” around the time of the aircraft’s disappearance from the radar. The national search and rescue agency confirmed that a team of “boats and sea riders” had been deployed to “the location suspected to be where [the aircraft] went down after losing contact.”

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Conditions overnight meant that the search could not continue in the hours of darkness. However, it appears that a key breakthrough has been made earlier today.

SJ182 Flightpath 09Jan2021
The flightpath of SJ182 yesterday afternoon. It appears to have suddenly turned eastward before rapidly descending towards the water. Image: FlightRadar24.com

Black boxes located

According to the BBC, Indonesian officials reported earlier that they had found the aircraft’s black boxes. The name of these devices, which record flight data and cockpit conversations, is, in fact, a misnomer. Indeed, they are painted orange, so they are easier to locate at crash sites.

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We hope that the black boxes’ recovery will provide investigators with the necessary data to ascertain what caused SJ182 to descend so suddenly and sharply. Officials added that they expect navy divers to be able to recover these devices from the crash site.

Sriwijaya Air 737 Getty
The aircraft in question (not pictured) was one of 19 Boeing 737s operated by Sriwijaya Air. Photo: Getty Images

Parts of the aircraft and, tragically but not unexpectedly, human remains are also said to have been found. Investigators have already been able to get to work on analyzing some of these aircraft parts. The pieces currently under scrutiny include a wheel and part of the fuselage.

With the weather in the area having improved, Reuters reports that authorities expect the search to continue into the hours of darkness. This night-time operation will utilize boats with sonar scanning capabilities.

We will continue to update you with any further breakthroughs in this case.

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