Previous flight of crashed Lion Air jet terrified passengers

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Relatives numbed by grief provided samples for DNA tests to help identify victims of the Lion Air plane crash that killed 189 people in Indonesia, as accounts emerged Tuesday of problems on the jet's previous flight including rapid descents that terrified passengers.

Hundreds of rescue personnel searched seas where the plane crashed, sending more than three dozen body bags to identification experts, while the airline flew dozens of grieving relatives to the country's capital, Jakarta.

The 2-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet plunged into the Java Sea early 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 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 U.S. 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."

His account is consistent with data from flight-tracking sites that show erratic speed, altitude and direction in the minutes after the jet took off. A similar pattern is also seen in data pinged from Monday's fatal flight. Safety experts cautioned, however, that the data must be checked for accuracy against the plane's "black boxes," which officials are confident will be recovered.

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JAKARTA, INDONESIA - OCTOBER 29: Search and rescue workers move the remains of a victim of the Lion Air flight JT 610 into a waiting ambulance at the Tanjung Priok port on October 29, 2018 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Lion Air Flight JT 610 crashed shortly after take-off with no sign so far of survivors among the 189 people on board the plane. (Photo by Ed Wray/Getty Images)
Debris from the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in the waters north of Karawang, West Java province, on October 29, 2018. - All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were 'likely' killed in the accident, the search and rescue agency said on October 29, as it announced it had found human remains. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
A relative of passengers prays as she and others wait for news on a Lion Air plane that crashed off Java Island at Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang, Indonesia Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. Indonesia disaster agency says that the Lion Air Boeing 737-800 plane crashed into sea shortly after it left Indonesia's capital Monday morning. (AP Photo/Hadi Sutrisno)
Members of Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) carry body bags containing the remains recovered from the area where a Lion Air passenger jet is suspected to crash, at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Lion Air flight crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia's capital on Monday in a blow to the country's aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and U.S. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
A member of Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) inspects debris believed to be from Lion Air passenger jet that crashed off Java Island at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Lion Air flight crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia's capital on Monday in a blow to the country's aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and U.S. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
Rescuers search for victims of a Lion Air passenger jet that crashed in the waters off Tanjung Karawang, Indonesia Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. The Lion Air flight crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia's capital on Monday in a blow to the country's aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and U.S. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
Members of Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) inspect debris recovered from near the waters where a Lion Air passenger jet is suspected to crash, at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Lion Air flight crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia's capital on Monday in a blow to the country's aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and U.S. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
Customers sit near a Lion Air counter at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Lion Air flight crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia's capital on Monday in a blow to the country's aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and the U.S. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
Relatives of passengers arrive at Lion Air's crisis center at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Lion Air flight crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia's capital on Monday in a blow to the country's aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and the U.S. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
A man takes photo of the list of passengers of Lion Air flight JT610 at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. The Lion Air flight crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia's capital on Monday in a blow to the country's aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and U.S. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
A relative of passengers weeps as she arrives at Lion Air's crisis center at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Lion Air flight crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia's capital on Monday in a blow to the country's aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and U.S. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
A relative of passengers arrive at Lion Air's crisis center at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Lion Air flight crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia's capital on Monday in a blow to the country's aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and U.S. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
Relatives comfort each other at the crisis center at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Cengkareng, Jakarta, Indonesia, on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Boeing Co. 737 Max jet, operated by Indonesia's Lion Air, crashed in the Java Sea with 189 people on board, making it the model's first accident and potentially the worst commercial aviation disaster in three years. Photographer: Rony Zakaria/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Search and rescue team members look at debris recovered from the crash site on the dockside at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Boeing Co. 737 Max jet, operated by Indonesia's Lion Air, crashed in the Java Sea with 189 people on board, making it the model's first accident and potentially the worst commercial aviation disaster in three years. Photographer: Rony Zakaria/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Search and rescue team members carry a body recovered from the crash on the dockside at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Boeing Co. 737 Max jet, operated by Indonesia's Lion Air, crashed in the Java Sea with 189 people on board, making it the model's first accident and potentially the worst commercial aviation disaster in three years. Photographer: Rony Zakaria/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Debris recovered from the crash site sits on the dockside at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. A Boeing Co. 737 Max jet, operated by Indonesia's Lion Air, crashed in the Java Sea with 189 people on board, making it the model's first accident and potentially the worst commercial aviation disaster in three years. Photographer: Rony Zakaria/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An undergarment believed to belong to a passenger on board the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in the waters north of Karawang, West Java province, on October 29, 2018. - All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were 'likely' killed in the accident, the search and rescue agency said on October 29, as it announced it had found human remains. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indonesian boatman takes pictures as debris from the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in the waters north of Karawang, West Java province, on October 29, 2018. - All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were 'likely' killed in the accident, the search and rescue agency said on October 29, as it announced it had found human remains. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
A boat sails in the background as debris from the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in the waters north of Karawang, West Java province, on October 29, 2018. - All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were 'likely' killed in the accident, the search and rescue agency said on October 29, as it announced it had found human remains. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
A shoe believed to belong to a passenger on board the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in the waters north of Karawang, West Java province, on October 29, 2018. - All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were 'likely' killed in the accident, the search and rescue agency said on October 29, as it announced it had found human remains. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue personnel transfer a bag containing human remains into an ambulance at port in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta, on October 29, 2018, after being recovered at sea following the crash of Lion Air flight JT 610. - All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were 'likely' killed in the accident, the search and rescue agency said on October 29, as it announced it had found human remains. (Photo by RESMI MALAU / AFP) (Photo credit should read RESMI MALAU/AFP/Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - OCTOBER 29 : Members of a rescue team bring personal items and wreckage ashore at the port in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta, Indonesia on October 29, 2018, after they were recovered from the sea where Lion Air flight JT 610 crashed off the north coast earlier in the day. - A brand new Indonesian Lion Air plane carrying 189 passengers and crew crashed into the sea on October 29, officials said, moments after it had asked to be allowed to return to Jakarta. (Photo credit should read Jepayona Delita / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - OCTOBER 29 : Members of a rescue team bring personal items and wreckage ashore at the port in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta, Indonesia on October 29, 2018, after they were recovered from the sea where Lion Air flight JT 610 crashed off the north coast earlier in the day. - A brand new Indonesian Lion Air plane carrying 189 passengers and crew crashed into the sea on October 29, officials said, moments after it had asked to be allowed to return to Jakarta. (Photo credit should read Jepayona Delita / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
A wallet belonging to a passenger of the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in the waters north of Karawang, West Java province, on October 29, 2018. - All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were 'likely' killed in the accident, the search and rescue agency said on October 29, as it announced it had found human remains. (Photo by ARIF ARIADI / AFP) (Photo credit should read ARIF ARIADI/AFP/Getty Images)
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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.

She said passengers sat in the cabin without air conditioning for at least 30 minutes listening to an "unusual" engine roar, while some children vomited from the overbearing heat, until staff faced with rising anger let them disembark.

After the passengers waited on the tarmac for about 30 minutes, they were told to board again while an engine was checked.

Caroline said she queried a staff member and received a defensive response.

"He just showed me the flight permit that he had signed and he said the problem had been settled," she said. "He treated me like a passenger full of disturbing dramas even though what I was asking represented friends and confused tourists who didn't understand Indonesian."

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 they provide medical and dental records and samples for DNA testing to help with identification of victims.

Risko, who uses a single name, wept outside the building as he waited with relatives.

"My father was onboard but we still don't know. We're still hoping for the best because there hasn't been an official statement from Lion Air. So we're still hoping for the best," he said.

Experts from Boeing Co. 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.

Air accident investigator Ony Suryo Wibowo told a news conference that officials have only a small amount of information so far and don't know if it's correct. He implored the public to be patient.

"To all Indonesian people, we are saddened and offer condolences but give us time to investigate why the plane crashed," he said. "Give us a chance to look deeply, to look at the whole problem, so the responsibility given to us by the government can be carried out."

More than 800 people from multiple agencies are involved in the search, which was expanded Tuesday to a 15 nautical mile area. Specialist ships and remotely operated underwater vehicles have been deployed to search for the plane's hull and flight recorders.

Search and Rescue Agency chief Muhammad Syaugi said search teams are going "all out" to locate the aircraft's fuselage.

He has said he's certain it won't take long to locate the hull of the aircraft and its flight recorders due to the relatively shallow 30 meter (100 foot) depth of the waters where it crashed.

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.

Indonesian airlines were barred in 2007 from 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. The U.S. lifted a decadelong ban in 2016.

Lion Air, a discount carrier, is one of Indonesia's youngest and biggest airlines, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations. Earlier this year it confirmed a deal to buy 50 new Boeing narrow-body aircraft worth an estimated $6.2 billion. It has been expanding aggressively in Southeast Asia, a fast-growing region of more than 600 million people.

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AP journalists Andi Jatmiko and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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