The search for the aircraft was immediately initiated following reports by local fishermen. Although wreckage, human remains, and clothing have been found, searches for the full aircraft and all passengers are still ongoing. The flight data recorder (FDR) was recovered on 12 January 2021. No survivors have been found.
Flight 182 was climbing to 13,000 ft (4,000 m) when it abruptly dived, then it suddenly turned to the right. An air traffic controller (ATC) noticed this and asked the pilots what was happening on board, but received no response. According to AirNav Radarbox flight data, the aircraft reported a rapid drop in altitude during the climb phase from 10,900 ft (3,300 m) to 7,650 ft (2,330 m) at 07:40 UTC.Flightradar24 reported that four minutes after takeoff, the aircraft dropped by 10,000 ft (3,000 m) in less than a minute. The flight tracker also noted that the aircraft's last recorded altitude was 250 feet (76 m) at 07:40:27 UTC. According to provided flight data, the airplane experienced a drop of 1,755 ft (535 m) in just six seconds between 07:40:08 and 07:40:14 UTC. It was followed by a drop of 825 ft (251 m) in two seconds, 2,725 ft (831 m) in four seconds, and 5,150 ft (1,570 m) in its last seven seconds. During the fall, the aircraft rapidly changed speed, decreasing and increasing in seconds. Its last contact with ATC was at 14:40 WIB (07:40 UTC) in a location between Laki Island and Lancang Island. The aircraft is presumed to have crashed into the Java Sea near Laki Island and 19 km (12 mi) from Soekarno–Hatta International Airport. According to the ATC, there was no distress call during the flight. Indonesian transport officials also stated that the aircraft failed to follow ATC instructions.
The aircraft involved was a Boeing 737-524, registered as PK-CLC (MSN 27323/2616). It was equipped with two CFMI CFM56-3B1 engines. As of 19 March 2012, it flew for 45,359 hours on 24,306 flights.
The aircraft was manufactured in 1994, and had its maiden flight on 13 May 1994. It was first delivered to Continental Airlines on 31 May 1994 under the registration N27610. The aircraft was transferred to United Airlines in 2010 after Continental and United merged. On 15 May 2012, the aircraft was sold to Sriwijaya Air. It was the first of a total of fifteen 737-500s received by Sriwijaya Air in 2012 to replace their 737-200s. Sriwijaya Air named the aircraft Citra. Between 23 March and 23 October 2020, the aircraft was stored at SurabayaJuanda International Airport for repair. The Ministry of Transportation stated that it inspected the aircraft on 14 December 2020 and issued a new certificate of airworthiness on 17 December 2020. It resumed service on 19 December 2020.
Personnel from a vessel provided by the Ministry of Transportation reported that body parts, fragments of clothing, electronics, personal belongings and wreckage had been recovered from the sea in waters near the Thousand Islands, with aviation fuel also reported around the location. The water near the crash site has a depth of around 15–16 m (49–52 ft).
On 10 January, the Indonesian Navy announced that the exact coordinates of the crash site have been pinpointed.
The flight data recorder, being temporarily submerged in water for conservation reasons
Rescuers managed to recover a life vest, pieces from the aircraft's fuselage and a destroyed wheel rim of the Boeing 737. Most of the wreckage was found at a depth of 17–23 metres (56–75 ft).
On the night of 9 January, an emergency slide of the aircraft was recovered from the waters near Lancang Island, Thousand Islands. The scattered debris and the small pieces of the wreckage indicated a high-speed impact. Much more wreckage was found over the next few days.
On 10 January, the NTSC reported that they had located the position of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders but after the flight data recorder was retrieved at 16:00 WIB on 12 January, it was reported that beacons on both flight recorders were dislodged in the impact and the cockpit voice recorder needs to be found without the assistance from underwater guidance signals. The casing of the cockpit voice recorder was recovered on 15 January but the memory module inside was missing. BPPT stated that the memory module of the CVR was thought to be buried under the aircraft's wreckage. In the afternoon of 17 January the CVR components and its casing, but without the memory module, were handed over to NTSC for further examination. The next day on 18 January, the search was extended for three more days.
The NTSC was immediately notified of the accident, with assistance from BASARNAS. NTSC stated that starting on 10 January 2021, just before 06:00 local time, search and rescue personnel would start searching for the aircraft's flight recorders. It added that the investigation will be assisted by the United States' National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), with the Singaporean Government also offering assistance with the investigation. On 10 January, NTSC obtained raw data of the aircraft's flight path from radar and interviews with the air traffic controller. Investigators also retrieved the transcript of the communication between the pilots and the ATC.
A spokeswoman from the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation reported that an abnormality was noted during the flight. The aircraft departed from Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on a standard instrument departure. The aircraft had been cleared to climb to 29,000 ft (8,800 m). During its climb, Flight 182 went off course to the northwest. ATC asked the crew about the deviation and got no response. A few seconds later, the aircraft dropped off radar.
An investigator with NTSC stated that based on the distribution of the debris, the aircraft possibly ruptured when it hit the water. Combining Flightradar24 data and the shape of the engine turbine's fan blade and turbine disc, NTSC speculated that the aircraft was still operating upon impact; based on the evidence, the aircraft was still responsive at 250 feet which, considering the speed of the aircraft, was near sea level.
There was a public concern that the aircraft was not airworthy. The Federal Aviation Administration initially had issued an Airworthiness Directive to Boeing 737–500 operators, concerning fatigue cracking on the left nacelle support overwing fitting flange fastener hole. The director of Sriwijaya Air insisted that the aircraft was airworthy. Although a 30-minute delay was noted, he insisted that the cause was bad weather, specifically heavy rain, rather than mechanical failure. In response, the NTSC said that they would be coordinating with BMKG in relation to weather in the Jakarta area. However, the Ministry of Transportation later examined the aircraft's airworthiness and determined that the aircraft was safe to fly.
An Indonesian aviation expert said that the aircraft had been stored for repairs by Sriwijaya Air between 23 March and 23 October 2020, signifying good maintenance history. However, other experts speculated that the long time spent inactive may have caused deterioration and that technical problems may have developed.
According to Tempo, sources close to the investigation committee revealed that the aircraft involved in the accident had a recurring autothrottle problem for at least a month. NTSC, however, stated that they did not have the maintenance data yet.
On 15 January, NTSC announced that the data from the FDR have been successfully downloaded. A total of 330 parameters were being examined and analysed by investigators. A Reuters report said that the data extracted, such as flight path, speed and engine condition, were "in good condition".
Weather data retrieved from BMKG confirmed the presence of moderate to heavy precipitation during takeoff with thunder reported. The data later showed that a 15 km (9.3 mi) high cumulonimbus cloud was present around Soekarno-Hatta International Airport with the minimum temperature of the cloud tops at −70 °C (−94 °F), prompting speculation that the aircraft had encountered turbulence. Visibility was reported to be 2 km (1.2 mi). Analysis by the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) showed that weather conditions were not extreme. LAPAN stated that a meso-convective system had been formed near the Java Sea at 11:00 WIB (04:00 UTC), but the system had already dissipated by the time Flight 182 took off.
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, the state's insurance company Jasa Raharja announced that it would compensate the relatives of the passengers and crew members aboard Flight 182. Each next-of-kin of the deceased would receive Rp 50 million (US$3,530). Minister of Social Affairs Tri Rismaharini announced that her ministry would give Rp 15 million (US$1,060) for each victim for compensation.
Delegations from Indonesia's House of Representatives visited the operation centre in Tanjung Priok. They later announced that the House would hold talks with the Ministry of Transportation about the accident. They also stated that they would hold talks with BMKG, Sriwijaya Air and NTSC. The Indonesian House of Representatives will scrutinize the operation of conduct of the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation regarding supervision of airliners' compliance with the aircraft's maintenance manual. A full evaluation of every airliner in Indonesia was later ordered.
The Regent of Thousand Islands, Junaedi, stated that the government of Thousand Islands will build a monument dedicated to the victims of Flight 182 on Lancang Island.
^"◤印尼空难◢印尼客机坠落路线曝光-漏夜搜救寻获" ["Indonesian Air Accident": Indonesian Passenger Airliner crash flight route publicized, SAR Operation conducted throughout the Night, Debris and Bodies were Found] (in Chinese). China Press. 10 January 2021. Archived from the original on 10 January 2021. Retrieved 10 January 2021.