Lion Air, a discount carrier, is one Indonesia's youngest and biggest airlines, flying to dozens of domestic and worldwide destinations. The flight was traveling from Jakarta to Depati Amir airport in Pangkal Pinang. Rescuers have recovered some bodies and personal items, including baby shoes.
Its director of operations, Bambang Suryo Aji, told a news conference the search effort is focusing on finding bodies, and survivors are not expected.
'We don't dare to say what the facts are, or are not, yet, ' he told reporters.
The latest crash comes after the tragic December 2014 crash of AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ8501 into the Java Sea after taking off from Surabaya.
It lost contact with ground control a few minutes after take-off, and was last tracked crossing the sea - it is unclear if there are any survivors.
"The plane crashed into water about 30m to 40m deep", Search and Rescue Agency spokesman Yusuf Latif told AFP news agency.
An underwater drone is also trying to find the wreckage, he said.
Shortly thereafter, rescue officials said that debris had been found that could have come from the plane.
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The airline, Lion Air, has a mixed safety record.
Lion Air said today that Suneja had 6,000 flight hours, and that his Indonesian co-pilot Harvino had more than 5,000. The ATC had permitted it to return, but the aircraft is then said to have gone down.
"The South African government wishes the Indonesian government and people, particularly the affected families, strength during this time of grief", said Ndivhuwo Mabaya, spokesman for the national department of worldwide relations and cooperation (Dirco).
Three of the crew on board were trainee flight attendants and one was a technician. The transport ministry said crisis centres have been set up Pangkal Pinang's airport and Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport. The aircraft made a climbing left-hand turn after takeoff.
Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft has also been certified safe to fly in United States and Europe by aviation authorities.
Lion Air was founded in 1999.
Incidentally, Lion Air was removed from the European Union's air safety blacklist in June 2016.
Indonesia's worst air disaster was in 1997, when a Garuda Indonesia A300 crashed in the city of Medan killing 214 people.
There were 189 people on board the plane.
But while his friends battled their way through Jakarta's daily congestion to make the flight, Sony found himself stuck on a toll road for hours.