A cockpit recording from a doomed Lion Air Boeing jet has revealed pilots desperately looked through the plane’s instruction manual as it nosedived into the sea off Indonesia.
Pilots scoured the handbook as they struggled to understand why the Max 8 aircraft was lurching downwards – but ran out of time before it hit the water, according to people with knowledge of the recording.
The investigation into the crash, which killed all 189 people on board in October, has taken on new relevance as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators grounded the model last week after a second deadly accident in Ethiopia.
Investigators examining the Indonesian crash are considering how a computer ordered the plane to dive in response to data from a faulty sensor and whether the pilots had enough training to respond appropriately to the emergency, among other factors.
It is the first time the voice recorder contents from the Lion Air flight have been made public. The three sources discussed them on condition of anonymity.
The pilots of a doomed Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX (stock photo) scoured a handbook as they struggled to understand why the jet was lurching downwards – but ran out of time before it hit the water, three people with knowledge of the cockpit voice recorder contents said
A preliminary report on the Lion Air Flight 610 accident blamed it in part on a faulty angle of attack sensor that triggered the MCAS system and automatically forced the plane’s nose down
A Lion Air spokesman said all data and information had been given to investigators and declined to comment further.
The captain was at the controls of Lion Air flight JT610 when the nearly new jet took off from Jakarta, and the first officer was handling the radio, according to a preliminary report issued in November.
Just two minutes into the flight, the first officer reported a ‘flight control problem’ to air traffic control and said the pilots intended to maintain an altitude of 5,000 feet, the November report said.
The first officer did not specify the problem, but one source said airspeed was mentioned on the cockpit voice recording, and a second source said an indicator showed a problem on the captain’s display but not the first officer’s.
The captain asked the first officer to check the quick reference handbook, which contains checklists for abnormal events, the first source said.
For the next nine minutes, the jet warned pilots it was in a stall and pushed the nose down in response, the report showed. A stall is when the airflow over a plane’s wings is too weak to generate lift and keep it flying.
The Lion Air flight crashed into the sea having reached an altitude of 5,000ft shortly after take off
The captain fought to climb, but the computer, still incorrectly sensing a stall, continued to push the nose down using the plane’s trim system. Normally, trim adjusts an aircraft’s control surfaces to ensure it flies straight and level.
‘They didn’t seem to know the trim was moving down,’ the third source said. ‘They thought only about airspeed and altitude. That was the only thing they talked about.’
Boeing Co declined to comment on Wednesday because the investigation was ongoing.
The manufacturer has said there is a documented procedure to handle the situation. A different crew on the same plane the evening before encountered the same problem but solved it after running through three checklists, according to the November report.
But they did not pass on all of the information about the problems they encountered to the next crew, the report said.
The pilots of JT610 remained calm for most of the flight, the three sources said. Near the end, the captain asked the first officer to fly while he checked the manual for a solution.
About one minute before the plane disappeared from radar, the captain asked air traffic control to clear other traffic below 3,000 feet and requested an altitude of ‘five thou’, or 5,000 feet, which was approved, the preliminary report said.
As the 31-year-old captain tried in vain to find the right procedure in the handbook, the 41-year-old first officer was unable to control the plane, two of the sources said.
The flight data recorder shows the final control column inputs from the first officer were weaker than the ones made earlier by the captain.
‘It is like a test where there are 100 questions and when the time is up you have only answered 75,’ the third source said. ‘So you panic. It is a time-out condition.’
The Indian-born captain was silent at the end, all three sources said, while the Indonesian first officer said ‘Allahu Akbar’, or ‘God is greatest’, a common Arabic phrase in the majority-Muslim country that can be used to express excitement, shock, praise or distress.
The plane then hit the water, killing all 189 people on board.
French air accident investigation agency BEA said on Tuesday the flight data recorder in the Ethiopian crash that killed 157 people showed ‘clear similarities’ to the Lion Air disaster.
Relatives of passengers on the doomed flight check personal belongings retrieved from the waters where the airplane is believed to have crashed, at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia in October
Since the Lion Air crash, Boeing has been pursuing a software upgrade to change how much authority is given to the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, a new anti-stall system developed for the 737 MAX.
The cause of the Lion Air crash has not been determined, but the preliminary report mentioned the Boeing system, a faulty, recently replaced sensor and the airline’s maintenance and training.
On the same aircraft the evening before the crash, a captain at Lion Air’s full-service sister carrier, Batik Air, was riding along in the cockpit and solved the similar flight control problems, two of the sources said. His presence on that flight, first reported by Bloomberg, was not disclosed in the preliminary report.
The report also did not include data from the cockpit voice recorder, which was not recovered from the ocean floor until January.
Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesian investigation agency KNKT, said last week the report could be released in July or August as authorities attempted to speed up the inquiry in the wake of the Ethiopian crash.
On Wednesday, he declined to comment on the cockpit voice recorder contents, saying they had not been made public. (Reporting by Cindy Silviana in Jakarta, Jamie Freed in Singapore and Tim Hepher in Paris; writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Gerry Doyle)
THE TROUBLED PAST OF LION AIR
The Lion Air passenger plane carrying 189 people when it crashed off the coast of Indonesia is the latest in a long list of incidents for the budget flight charter.
The low-cost airline has been involved in numerous crashes in recent years, AeroInside historical incident reports reveal.
In 2017, one of the company’s Boeing jets collided with a Wings Air plane during a botched landing at Kualanamu airport on the island of Sumatra.
Nobody was injured in the collision.
In May of 2016, two Lion Air planes collided at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport.
Only one month prior, a plane operated by Batik Air, which is a part of the Lion Group, clipped a TransNusa plane.
Three years earlier, in 2013, a Lion Air jet, piloted by a young, inexperienced rookie underestimated the runway while attempting to land the plane in Bali.
The plane, carrying 108 passengers crashed into the sea and subsequently split in two.
Several people were injured in the crash, but nobody was killed.
In 2013, a Lion Air jet, piloted by a young, inexperienced rookie underestimated the runway while attempting to land the plane in Bali
Indonesian rescue workers helped remove a section of a Lion Air Boeing 737 from the sea four days after it crashed while trying to land at Bali’s international airport (Pictured 2013 crash in Bali)
Several other documents confirm there have been multiple occasions involving miscalculation of runways, resulting in minor damage to the planes in 2012 and 2013.
At least 32 people were killed and another 61 injured when a Lion Air plane skidded off the runway in Central Java in 2014 after landing in bad weather.
Authorities are working to determine how many people were killed on the Lion Air flight that crashed into the sea north of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta 13 minutes after take-off today.
The fates of the passengers are so far unknown, but relatives were seen crying as they awaited news on their loved ones, and body parts were seen floating in the sea nearby the crash site.
Lion Air’s flight JT-610 was heading to Pangkal Pinang, an island north of Indonesia’s capital.
The domestic flight lost contact with air traffic control at about 6.33am local time (10.33am AEDT, 11.33pm BST).
Indonesia’s air travel industry is booming, but has a reputation of poor safety regulations and frequent incidents across the board.
The European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe in 2007 due to safety concerns. Lion Air was allowed to resume flights to Europe as of June 2016, and the ban on all other Indonesian airlines was lifted earlier this year.
At least 32 people were killed and another 61 injured when a Lion Air plane skidded off the runway in Central Java in 2014 after landing in bad weather (pictured 2004 crash in Central Java)
It mirrors the reputation of Malaysian airlines, who have been tainted by the memory of missing MH370 and the shot down MH17.
On the 8th of March, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared while flying from Malaysia to China, and was never located – nor were the passengers.
Only months later, in July of 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down on its path from Amsterdam to Malaysia while flying over Ukraine.
All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board died.
Outside of Lion Air’s troubling aviation history, accidents are still rife.
In August, a 12-year-old boy was the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed all eight other people on board a private aircraft.
Three years prior, in August of 2015, 54 people were killed after a Trigana aircraft crashed in poor weather conditions.