Rescuers are continuing their search of the sea following the Indonesia plane crash that killed 189 people.

Grief-stricken relatives have provided samples for DNA tests to help identify victims of the Lion Air plane crash.

The search continued north-east of Jakarta as accounts emerged of problems on the jet’s previous flight, including rapid descents.

The two-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet crashed into the Java Sea early Monday, just 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta for an island off Sumatra.

Its pilot requested clearance to return to the airport just two to three minutes after take-off, indicating a problem.

Aircraft debris and personal belongings including ID cards, clothing and bags found scattered in the sea are being sorted into evidence bags.

The disaster has reignited concerns about safety in Indonesia’s fast-growing aviation industry, which was recently removed from European Union and US blacklists.

Two passengers on the plane’s previous flight from Bali to Jakarta on Sunday described issues that caused alarm.

Alon Soetanto told TVOne the plane dropped suddenly several times in the first few minutes of its flight.

“About three to eight minutes after it took off, I felt like the plane was losing power and unable to rise. That happened several times during the flight,” he said.

“We felt like in a rollercoaster. Some passengers began to panic and vomit.”

The search and rescue operation off Indonesia Credit: Tatan Syuflana/AP

His account is consistent with data from flight-tracking sites that show erratic speed, altitude and direction in the minutes after the jet took off.

A similar pattern is also seen in data pinged from Monday’s fatal flight.

Safety experts cautioned, however, that the data must be checked for accuracy against the plane’s black boxes, which officials are confident will be recovered.

Lion Air president Edward Sirait said there were reports of technical problems with the flight from Bali but they had been resolved in accordance with the plane manufacturer’s procedures.

The airline did not respond to requests to verify a document purporting to be a Lion Air maintenance report, dated Sunday, that described inaccurate airspeed and altitude readings after take-off.

In a detailed post online, Indonesian TV presenter Conchita Caroline, who was on Sunday’s flight, said boarding was delayed by more than an hour and when the plane was being towed, a technical problem forced it to return to its parking space.

She said passengers sat in the cabin without air conditioning for at least 30 minutes listening to an “unusual” engine roar, until staff faced with rising anger let them disembark.

After the passengers waited on the tarmac for about 30 minutes, they were told to board again while an engine was checked.

On Tuesday, distraught family members struggled to comprehend the sudden loss of loved ones in the crash of a new plane with experienced pilots in fine weather.

Many went to a police hospital where authorities asked they provide medical and dental records and samples for DNA testing to help with identification of victims.

Experts from Boeing were expected to arrive in Jakarta on Wednesday to help with the accident investigation, Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee said.

The Transport Ministry has ordered an inspection of all Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes in Indonesia.

Air accident investigator Ony Suryo Wibowo told a news conference that officials have only a small amount of information so far and do not know if it is correct. He implored the public to be patient.

“To all Indonesian people, we are saddened and offer condolences but give us time to investigate why the plane crashed,” he said.

“Give us a chance to look deeply, to look at the whole problem, so the responsibility given to us by the government can be carried out.”

More than 800 people from multiple agencies are involved in the search, which has been expanded to a 10 nautical mile area. Specialist ships and remotely operated underwater vehicles have been deployed to search for the plane’s hull and flight recorders.

Search and Rescue Agency chief Muhammad Syaugi said search teams are going “all out” to locate the aircraft’s fuselage.

He has said he is certain it will not take long to locate the hull of the aircraft and its flight recorders due to the relatively shallow depth of the waters where it crashed.