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Previous flight of crashed Lion Air plane sparked panic


Grieving relatives have provided DNA samples to help identify victims of Indonesia’s deadly Lion Air plane crash, as accounts emerged of problems on the jet’s previous flight.

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Hundreds of rescue personnel searched seas where the plane crashed on Tuesday, sending more than three dozen body bags to identification experts.

Meanwhile the airline flew dozens of grieving relatives to the country’s capital, Jakarta.

The two-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet plunged into the Java Sea early on Monday, just 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta for an island off Sumatra.

Its pilot requested clearance to return to the airport 2-3 minutes after takeoff, indicating a problem, though the cause of the crash is still uncertain.

Aircraft debris and personal belongings including ID cards, clothing and bags found scattered in the sea were spread out on tarps at a port in north Jakarta and sorted into evidence bags.

The chief of the police’s medical unit, Arthur Tampi, said it has received dozens of body parts for identification and is awaiting results of DNA tests, expected to take 4-8 days.

The disaster has reignited concerns about safety in Indonesia’s fast-growing aviation industry, which was recently removed from European Union and US blacklists.

Two passengers on the plane’s previous flight from Bali to Jakarta on Sunday described issues that caused annoyance and alarm.

Alon Soetanto told TVOne the plane dropped suddenly several times in the first few minutes of its flight.

“About three to eight minutes after it took off, I felt like the plane was losing power and unable to rise. That happened several times during the flight,” he said.

“We felt like in a roller coaster. Some passengers began to panic and vomit.”

Lion Air president Edward Sirait said there were reports of technical problems with the flight from Bali but they had been resolved in accordance with the plane manufacturer’s procedures.

The airline didn’t respond to requests to verify a document purporting to be a Lion Air maintenance report, dated Sunday, that described inaccurate airspeed and altitude readings after takeoff.

In a detailed post online, Indonesian TV presenter Conchita Caroline, who was on Sunday’s flight, said boarding was delayed by more than an hour and when the plane was being towed, a technical problem forced it to return to its parking space.

On Tuesday, distraught family members struggled to comprehend the sudden loss of loved ones in the crash of a new plane with experienced pilots in fine weather.

Many went to a police hospital where authorities asked that they provide medical and dental records and samples for DNA testing to help with identification of victims.

Experts from Boeing were expected to arrive in Jakarta on Wednesday to help with the accident investigation, Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee said.

The Transport Ministry has ordered an inspection of all Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes in Indonesia.

– AP

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