A Commercial Lion Air plane that plummeted into the Java Sea with almost 200 people on board had a technical problem on a previous flight, the company's chief executive has revealed.
"This plane previously flew from Denpasar to Jakarta. There was a report of a technical issue which had been resolved according to procedure," CEO Edward Sirait told reporters.
He said the airline had operated 11 aircraft of the same model, the Boeing 737 Max 8, and that other planes did not have the same technical issue.
The plane was delivered brand new to budget airline Lion Air just weeks ago.
Lion Air flight JT610 crashed, carrying up to 189 people, just 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia on Monday at 6.20am local time.
The pilot had reportedly requested to return to base just moments earlier. Yohanes Sirait, a spokesman for the country's air navigation authorities, told Reuters that air traffic control approved the request but then lost contact with the plane almost immediately.
According to aviation website Flightradar24, the plane was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, a brand new aircraft, delivered to Lion Air in August.
The aircraft was manufactured in 2018 and had only been operated by the airline since August 15 this year. It had clocked up just 800 hours of flying time.
The pilot and co-pilot had more than 11,000 flight hours between them, according to the spokesman.
Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency chief Muhammad Syaugi told a news conference that divers were trying to locate the wreckage of the plane, which according to aviation website Flightradar24 was brand-new and delivered to Lion Air in August. The bulk of the plane is believed to have sunk.
Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency today posted photos online of a crushed smartphone, books, bags and parts of the aircraft fuselage collected by search and rescue vessels that have converged on the area. Other debris thought to be from the plane, including aircraft seats and buoys and mobile phones, have been found near an offshore refining facility in the Java Sea, an official of state energy firm Pertamina said. Indonesian TV stations have also broadcast pictures of a fuel slick and debris field.
"We don't know yet whether there are any survivors," Syaugi said.
"We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm."
In a statement, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told news.com.au it was "aware of reports of the missing Lion Air aircraft in Indonesia".
"The Australian Embassy in Jakarta is making urgent inquiries with local authorities to determine if any Australians were affected," the statement read.
Indonesia's Transport Ministry said the Boeing 737-800 plane was scheduled to take just over an hour from Indonesia's capital.
The National Search and Rescue Agency said the flight ended in waters off West Java that are 30 to 35 meters deep. Data from aircraft tracking website FlightAware showed it had reached an altitude of only 1,580 meters.
According to officials, no distress signal was received from the aircraft's emergency locator transmitter.
Spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the aircraft was carrying up to 182 passengers, including one child and two babies, and seven crew members on the flight to Pangkal Pinang on an island chain off Sumatra.
Indonesian TV showed dozens of people waiting anxiously outside the Pangkal Pinang airport and officials bringing out plastic chairs. The transport ministry said crisis centres have been set up Pangkal Pinang's airport and Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport.
The crash is the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea in December 2014, killing all 162 on board. The incident is also a blow to the country's aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and US.
A report to the Jakarta Search and Rescue Office cited the crew of a tug boat which had reported seeing a Lion Air flight falling from the sky. A telegram from the National Search and Rescue Agency to the air force has requested assistance with the search.
Lion Air is one of Indonesia's youngest and biggest airlines, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations.
In 2013, one of its Boeing 737-800 jets missed the runway while landing on the resort island of Bali, crashing into the sea without causing any fatalities among the 108 people on board.
Indonesian airlines were barred in 2007 were flying to Europe because of safety concerns, though several were allowed to resume services in the following decade. The ban was completely lifted in June this year. The US lifted a decade long ban in 2016.