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Lion Air jet flew erratically day before it crashed

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Indonesian fisherman describes shock wave as flight JT610 hit the water

PAKISJAYA, INDONESIA Fishermen Budi and Gauk left home an hour before dawn on Monday and headed out to sea off the coast of Jakarta in clear weather.

About the same time, on the other side of the Indonesian capital, passengers were checking in for Lion Air flight JT610.

Then, shortly after 6.30am their lives collided. The Boeing 737 fell out of the sky near the two men, silently at first and then with a deafening crash as it smacked into the sea.

"You could feel the explosion from the shock wave in the water," said Mr Gauk, who goes by one name.

Police busied themselves with rubber dinghies and ambulances were lined up on the shoreline, but no one pretended any of the 189 people on board flight JT610 would be found alive.

Mr Yusuf Latief, spokesman for the national search and rescue agency, said there were likely no survivors.

Lion Air, a low-cost airline that dominates the domestic air travel market, has had more than a dozen accidents in its nearly 20-year history.

One plane had fuel pouring out of its aircraft wing, another skidded and veered off the tarmac. One hit a cow. Another missed the runway, crashing into the sea off Bali and splitting into two, forcing passengers to swim to shore. No one died in these accidents. The only Lion Air accident with fatalities was in 2004 when 25 people were killed in a crash.

What is known is that the plane flew erratically the previous evening and its airspeed readings were unreliable.

According to data from FlightRadar24, the jet had unusual variations in altitude and airspeed after taking off from Denpasar on Sunday - including an 266m drop over 27 seconds when it would normally be ascending - before stabilising and flying on to Jakarta. However, the pilots kept the plane at a maximum altitude of 8,530m compared with 11,000m on the same route earlier in the week.

Lion Air chief executive Edward Sirait told reporters on Monday a technical problem had occurred on the Denpasar-Jakarta flight but it had been resolved "according to procedure".

National Transport Safety Committee (NSTC) deputy chief Haryo Satmiko told reporters yesterday there were technical problems.

"The suspected cause of the accident is still being investigated..." he said.

Two passengers on Sunday's flight posted on Instagram that there were concerns about problems with the air-conditioning system and lighting and the plane left about three hours late.

One of them, TV presenter Conchita Caroline, said there was a "weird" engine noise upon take-off and during the flight.

That flight landed at 10.55pm local time on Sunday, giving engineers 61/2 hours at most for checks before it was dispatched for the fatal flight at 6.20am on Monday.

- REUTERS, THE STRAITS TIMES

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