Indonesia Starts Probe Into Lion Air Crash Off Bali Coast

Indonesia started investigations into at least its fourth aircraft accident in 16 months after a Boeing Co. 737-800 passenger jet operated by PT Lion Mentari Airlines, which is banned from flying in Europe, crashed into the sea off Bali’s international airport.

The plane’s cockpit voice recorder has been found and is being retrieved, Transport Minister Evert Erenst Mangindaan said in a press briefing in Jakarta today. The process is expected to be concluded today, he said. The accident, which caused no fatalities among the 108 passengers and crew, was the first with total hull loss on an Indonesian commercial carrier since November 2011, according to the Flight Safety Foundation.

“KNKT are investigating whether the accident was caused by weather, technical factors or human error,” Farid Indra Nugraha, the corporate secretary of PT Angkasa Pura I, operator of Ngurah Rai International Airport, said by phone yesterday, referring to Indonesia’s transport safety committee. “We haven’t ruled out any of them.”

The crash focuses attention on Lion Air, Indonesia’s biggest private carrier, just as it plans an expansion. The Jakarta-based airline has placed orders of more than $45 billion with Airbus SAS and Boeing in the past two years and has 559 narrow-body planes pending, the world’s biggest backlog. Lion Air is banned from the European Union, which blacklisted Indonesia’s airlines after a number of fatal accidents. The country’s flag carrier, PT Garuda Indonesia, and three other operators were allowed to return to Europe in 2009.

Hull Lost

“I have instructed the transportation minister to take care of the injured and conduct investigations,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said through his official Twitter account.

The Lion Air Boeing 737-800, which crashed and fractured after its flight from Bandung to Bali, was registered March 20, Mangindaan said. The plane had about 146 flying hours, he said.

“Boeing is standing ready to assist the local authorities if called,” Marc Birtel, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail. “Our immediate concern is for the welfare of the passengers and crew,” he said, declining to comment on the cause of the accident.

‘Visually Clear’

Indonesia’s TVOne showed pictures of the plane with its fuselage cracked on April 13. The weather was “visually clear” when the accident happened, Edward Sirait, commercial director of Lion Air, told the television station. There were 95 adults, five children, one infant and seven crew onboard, he said.

“The plane was broken into two,” Sirait said in a phone interview with TVOne. “Visually it is a total loss, which means we cannot use the aircraft again.”

Several calls to Sirait’s mobile phone weren’t answered and he didn’t reply to text messages sent to him seeking comment.

The pilot and co-pilot’s urine tests were negative for drugs and alcohol while further tests on their hair will be conducted by the Bali police, Bambang Ervan, a spokesman at the transport ministry, said today. The National Transportation Safety Committee, or KNKT, will analyze the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, Ervan said.

“The weather at the airport was slightly cloudy with light rain at the end of the runway,” Mangindaan said, referring to the weather at the time of the crash. He declined to comment on the possible cause for the crash.

Partnerships Planned

Lion Air is considering partnerships in Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam, Sirait said in an interview April 1. The company aims to have 1,000 planes in 10 years, he said.

In February 2012, the discount carrier ordered 201 Boeing 737 MAXs and 29 Next-Generation 737-900ERs worth $22.4 billion, the biggest single order for the U.S. aircraft maker in its history, measured by number of planes and the value of the order. In March, Lion placed an order for 234 Airbus A320 aircraft worth $24 billion.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous nation, accounts for 1.4 percent of global flight traffic, yet contributed to 4 percent of all accidents in 2010, the International Air Transport Association said in a 2011 statement, citing IATA Director General Tony Tyler.

Indonesia Crashes

The Bali crash is Indonesia’s fourth aircraft accident since the start of 2012 and the first this year, according to the Flight Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety Network.

A Cessna plane crashed at Husein Sastranegara airport in Bandung, West Java, Sept. 29 during an airshow. Nine people were killed when an Indonesian air force plane crashed into houses in East Jakarta during a training flight, Azman Yunus, an air force spokesman, said June 12.

A Sukhoi SuperJet crashed and killed 45 people in West Java in May after the pilot of the Russian-made aircraft ignored an automatic warning that the plane was on course to hit a mountain, a report by Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee showed. Indonesia had five fatal air disasters in 2011, according to Flight Safety Foundation data.

The European Union removed a prohibition on Garuda Indonesia, the nation’s biggest airline, and three other carriers in July 2009 after “significant improvements” by the Indonesian civil aviation authority, according to the European Commission, the EU’s regulatory arm.

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