PANGKAL PINANG, Indonesia (Reuters) - As Indonesia struggles to determine why an airliner crashed this week with the loss of all 189 people on board, there is nowhere the impact of its second-worst air disaster has been felt as deeply as the sleepy, palm-fringed Bangka-Belitung islands.
Lion Air flight JT610, an almost new Boeing 737 MAX 8, was en route from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang, center of the Bangka-Belitung tin-mining region, on Monday when it crashed into the sea soon after take-off.
“Bangka-Belitung has never suffered from a crash like this before,” said Krisna Wiryawan, head of the city’s tax office. Seven of his 92 employees were on the doomed flight.
“We’re feeling deeply hurt,” said Wiryawan, speaking at his desk at the slightly shabby, red-tiled tax building, with rows of flowers carrying condolence messages lined up outside.
Indonesian flags on government offices in Pangkal Pinang were at half-mast this week to honor the victims.
The tax office suffered disproportionate losses since many of its workers commute from Jakarta, and Wiryawan himself said he often took that flight.
Staff regularly used Lion or other budget airlines, rather than the national carrier, Garuda, for cost reasons, particularly if using personal expenses, said Wiryawan.
According to data compiled by state insurer Jasa Raharja, out of 189 people on board flight JT610, at least 45 were residents of these islands of 1.4 million inhabitants that rely on mining, agriculture, fishing and a small tourism sector.
Indonesia is the world’s biggest tin exporter thanks to the rich seams of ore in the Bangka-Belitung islands, though this has come at a price with unregulated mining scarring parts of the islands with a lunar landscape of craters.
Still, the industry is a major employer and has drawn in workers from across Indonesia to the islands, off the east coast of Sumatra island, about half way between Jakarta and Singapore.
Four employees of state tin miner PT Timah and three employees of a Timah subsidiary, were on the plane.
Company secretary Amin Haris Sugiarto said Timah had been hoping for a miracle and their employees could be found.
Timah has sent an emergency response team, including a doctor and paramedics, to Jakarta to help the families of their staff.
Lion Air has flown about 100 family members of the missing to Jakarta and the airport in Pangkal Pinang is preparing for the remains of victims to be flown back.
Search and rescue teams have only found body parts from the missing plane.
In the town of Sungai Liat, about 40 km (25 miles) from Pangkal Pinang, relatives of a couple who were on board the plane with their 15-month-old daughter sought comfort by reciting verses from the Koran in a tent set up outside the family home.
Wita Seriani, a dentist, and her husband Rizal Gilang Perkasa Sanusi Putra, who worked at the state power company, had just celebrated their second wedding anniversary.
Family members had gone to Jakarta to give DNA samples to help with identification, but Seriani’s mother, Susmawati, had remained behind.
“It’s all fate,” she said, speaking softly.
Susmawati said her daughter had sent her a message 20 minutes before the flight took off from Jakarta, so that her father could pick them up at the airport.
“Mom, tell dad we’re on board the plane,” the message read.
Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel