Delayed Covid-19 Test Kept Passenger Off Boeing 737-500 That Crashed Saturday

On Saturday Indonesian carrier Sriwijaya Air lost a Boeing 737-500 operating as flight SJ-182 from Jakarta to Pontianak. There were 56 passengers and 6 crew on board.

The aircraft was climbing through 10,800 feet over the Java Sea when it lost radio and radar contact. Debris was found in the water and Indonesia’s Ministry of Transport confirmed the aircraft had crashed. It had been off of its assigned course, and contacted by air traffic control before disappearing from view seconds later. The main wreckage has been identified on the floor of the sea. Residents on boats nearby reported hearing two separate explosions.

Sriwijaya was launched in 2003. It received a Boeing award for safety and maintenance in 2007 and experienced its first fatal incident in 2008. Saturday’s occurrence aircraft, PK-CLC, first flew in 1994. This is a 26 year old aircraft and not a 737 MAX. We don’t yet know the cause of the crash.

In any aviation disaster there are as many stories as there are passengers, crew, and people who worked on or communicated with the aircraft. It’s easy to get caught up in numbers (“62 people have died”).

One story is a family who moved up their travel onto the crashed plane when their Covid-19 tests came back early.

A forest ranger was headed with his family to a new job. His start was delayed because his was pregnant. They waited until they felt their new son was old enough to travel, and other family members joined them in the move. Since their home of Pangkal Pinang isn’t connected with a non-stop flight to Pontianak where the job would be, they had to connect in Jakarta where they overnighted and took Covid-19 PCR tests.

They didn’t take the tests at home because testing is cheaper in Indonesia’s capital. The family expected to fly on Sunday, but their test results came in earlier than expected and they changed plans to get onto the doomed aircraft. The young daughter texted before the flight,

Dad, this morning our PCR swab (test) results came out. We are all negative, so we decided to fly to Pontianak straightaway. We are now at the (airport) lounge waiting for our flight. It is delayed because the rain is pouring very hard.

The plane’s departure was delayed 56 minutes due to weather.

Ironically, in another case, a passenger avoided the crashed plane because their test results were delayed,

A passenger booked onto the crashed flight reported, that he had to miss the flight due to his Covid-19 PCR Test results not yet having arrived. Only after the aircraft had already departed the (negative) test results arrived which would have permitted him to board the flight.

In the coming days we’ll learn more stories from the flight, and eventually what happened that caused the crash and the tragic loss of so many.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Sriwijaya Air is no longer part of Garuda. Need to do your background check more. The two companies went their parted ways after their relationship went sour.

  2. I’m annoyed that Boeing stock is down today, only because of the knee-jerk reaction from people who don’t understand a 737-500 is obviously not another MAX.

  3. @Steve – That’s reason to buy, according to your logic. Profit on the ignorance of others!

    Not that I personally agree, but “annoyance” seems an odd reaction.

  4. I read on the internet that they were flying in a monsoon. Ever seen an Asian monsoon. I have seen very bad monsoons in Mumbai. You can’t fly any kind of airplane in a torrential monsoon!

  5. @jamesb – I already have too large of a position as it is, otherwise, yes I would have bought more this morning. Unfortunately my cost basis is pretty high considering I first added shares post-MAX crashes but pre-coronavirus :-\ Though I did double down and get more when it hit ~$110-ish earlier last year.

  6. “A forest ranger was headed with his family to a new job. His start was delayed because his ~~~~~~~ was pregnant. “

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