Officials Detail Lion Air Jet’s Previous Issues
Indonesian airport officials have released new details of the problems the downed Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 had on a flight the day before it plunged into the Java Sea.
On Monday, the two-month-old 737 MAX 8 crashed into the sea after experiencing erratic changes in speed and altitude, killing all 189 people on board.
The pilot who flew the same aircraft the day before reported having similar issues with the plane on a Sunday night flight from Bali (DPS) to Jakarta (CGK). The head of the Bali-Nusa Tenggara Airport Authority said that Sunday’s pilot requested a return to base (RTB) shortly after takeoff. He did not return to the airport, however, because he reported that the problem had been solved.
“Shortly after requesting RTB, the pilot then contacted the control tower again to inform that the plane had run normally and would not return,” Herson, the airport authority head, said on Friday. “The captain said the problem was resolved and he decided to continue the trip to Jakarta.”
According to the AP, multiple passengers on that Sunday flight told Indonesian television channels that the plane repeatedly suffered sudden losses in altitude.
“The plane suddenly fell, then rose, then fell again harder and shook,” passenger Diah Mardani said. “All the passengers started shouting God is Great. The atmosphere was very tense.”
“I thought maybe it was caused by turbulence,” another passenger on the Sunday flight, Robbi Gaharu, told CNN. “After 10 minutes in the air the plane dropped as if it was losing power. People panicked. It dropped about 400 feet,” Gaharu added, noting that he later looked up the flight data on a flight tracker site.
Investigators also said Friday they contacted the co-pilot of Sunday’s flight, who confirmed the details from passengers that have been circulating in the media. The unnamed pilot told regulators that the issues with the aircraft were “just as it circulates on media and social media.”
The plane’s flight data recorder will be able to confirm the reports and shed light on why the plane went down. Search-and-rescue teams recovered one of the so-called “black boxes” on Thursday, but officials said Friday that they are having trouble pulling data off the mechanism. The black box is reportedly not fully intact. Indonesia’s National Transport Safety Committee said the “crash-survivable memory unit” was opened under the water, so it will need new wiring and a new shell before data can start to be pulled from it.
Divers are still trying to locate the cockpit voice recorder on the bed of the Java Sea. Officials said that as of Friday, they haven’t picked up any pings on sonar that would help to locate the recorder. The device will tell investigators what the pilots discussed as they struggled to right the plane’s course, as well as any sounds in the cockpit, like alarms and other alerts. Also eluding searchers: the plane’s main fuselage. Teams thought they had located it on sonar, but that proved to be false information. The largest pieces of plane debris found so far are an engine turbine and an aircraft wheel, both located Friday.
Indonesia’s transportation ministry said it will be watching all other Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in the country. “The currently operating Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft have been inspected, and we will continue to monitor and supervise closely, day by day, and if it is found to be significant we will do another inspection and ground them if needed,” the director of airworthiness at the ministry said.
Lion Group, the parent company of Lion Air, said it has handed over all information to regulators to assist in the probe.
Representatives from the US National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing have arrived in Indonesia to assist regulators in the crash investigation.
Featured image by Ed Wray/Getty Images.