Boats, a helicopter and 250 rescuers, including divers, were working at the crash site, some 34 nautical miles northeast of the coast near Jakarta in the Java Sea.
Air travel is crucial in Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands that stretches about 5,100 km (3,170 miles) from east to west, nearly the distance between NY and London.
"The South African embassy in Jakarta has obtained a passenger manifest for the said flight and, based on this passenger manifest, indications are that there were no South African nationals on board the Lion Air flight JT 610", he said.
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 is the most recent model of Boeing's famous 737, the USA company's best-selling plane, and is a popular choice among budget airlines around the world.
A Lion Air 737, similar to the updated 737 Max 8 that crashed. Websites that display flight data showed the plane speeding up as it suddenly lost altitude in the minutes before it disappeared, with authorities saying witnesses saw the jet plunge into the water.
Lion, a low-priced airline which has engaged in a huge expansion in recent years, has been involved in a number of incidents including a fatal 2004 crash and a collision between two Lion Air planes at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport. The ban was completely lifted in June this year.
Lion Air, a discount carrier, is one of Indonesia's youngest and biggest airlines, flying to dozens of domestic and worldwide destinations.
Indonesian rescuers evacuating parts from a crashed Lion Air passenger plane in waters off Tanjung Karawang, West Java.
"The Australian embassy in Jakarta continues to make urgent enquiries with local authorities to determine if any Australians were on board the flight", a DFAT spokeswoman said on Tuesday. The Malaysian airline was flying from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
The Associated Press reports that the flight was carrying 181 passengers and eight crews members. Investigators blamed a rudder control system that had malfunctioned almost two dozen times in the previous year, combined with the pilots' response.
"We have found so far the tail of the Lion Air JT 610 plane, which bears the airline's logo", Aji said in a press conference in Jakarta.
A year earlier poor maintenance and the pilots' inadequate response was blamed for the crash of an AirAsia plane crashed with the loss of 162 lives.
'Suspicious packages' sent to Clinton, Obama; CNN evacuated
CNN reports: "It was not immediately clear who the package was addressed to, but CNN evacuated its newsroom as a precaution". They noted the president's recent praise of a GOP congressman who body-slammed a reporter, among other Trump statements .
Indonesian Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi confirmed that Lion Air took delivery of the plane only on Aug 13, and it had clocked about 800 hours.
Families of passengers onboard a Lion Air aircraft that crashed outside the Indonesian capital on Monday (Oct 29) continued to gather and wait anxiously for information late into the night at a crisis centre set up at Jakarta's global airport.
However, six other Lion Air jets, including one that crash-landed in the water short of the runway at the Indonesian resort island of Bali in 2013, were damaged beyond fix in various accidents, according to Aviation Safety Network.
There were few other signs of the plane.
The aviation sector is expanding fast as the economy booms but there are concerns airlines are struggling to find enough well-trained personnel to keep up with the rapid growth.
"I know my friends were on that flight", he said. "It's hard to judge if they have made sufficient progress with regard to safety".
"I predict many bodies remain inside the plane".
Indonesia's air travel industry is booming, with the number of domestic passengers growing significantly over the past decade, but it has acquired a reputation for poor regulation.
Aircraft operators in the Asia-Pacific region have had the highest number of accidents in the last five years, accounting for about one-fourth of all accidents, according to the trade group.
The privately owned airline in April announced a firm order to buy 50 Boeing 737 MAX 10 narrowbody jets with a list price of $6.24 billion.
Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait told a press conference that the plane was declared airworthy by engineers qualified to check the plane and approved the plane's release for flight and that the new aircraft started operation on August 15. Boeing has taken almost 4800 orders for the plane, including 201 from Lion Air..