Lion Air crash investigation reveals how pilots fought hard to save plane

Marsha Scott
November 29, 2018

"During (that) flight, the plane was experiencing a technical problem but the pilot chose to continue", Nurcahyo Utomo, aviation head at the National Transport Safety Committee, told reporters.

The pilot of a doomed Lion Air flight "fought continuously" against malfunctioning computers that were trying to force the plane's nose down before it crashed off Indonesia killing all 189 people on board, according to a preliminary report.

Pilots of the Boeing 737 struggled to control the aircraft after takeoff, according to a report from Indonesia's national transport safety committee.

The report unveiled fresh details of efforts by pilots to steady the 737 MAX jet as they reported a "flight control problem", including the captain's last words to air traffic control asking to be cleared to "five thou" or 5,000 feet.

The plane's angle-of-attack sensor - that measures the angle between the wings and the flow of air - encountered problems and was replaced the day before the crash.

"The Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) recorded a difference between left and right Angle of Attack (AoA) of about 20° and continued until the end of recording".

The information was taken from the flight data recorder and appeared to back investigators' theories that the on-flight computers were to blame for the tragedy.

The maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) - an automated modification new to the model that crashed - activated and directed the jet's nose down to prevent a stall, Nurcahyo said.

Similarly to what occurred a day later, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 also ended up being automatically pitched nose down, but the flight crew shut down the MCAS (the anti-stall system) and continued the flight manually, landing "without incident".

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The plane experienced technical problems in four earlier flights. "This condition is considered as un-airworthy condition" and the flight should have been "discontinued".

The flight, a Lion Air Boeing 737 jet, crashed while travelling between Bali and the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

"This corner of the performance charts is called the "coffin corner", said Mary Schiavo, an aviation lawyer and former inspector general of the U.S. Transportation Department, "and good pilot training teaches you how to get out of coffin corner, but did these pilots realise the plane itself was putting them in coffin corner?" "It is too early to conclude". The report repeats recommendations that pilots be better versed in emergency procedures aware of past aircraft problems. The findings were part of a preliminary report prepared by investigators looking into what caused a Boeing 737 Max passenger jet to crash minutes after takeoff on October 29.

However, during the 29 October flight, the plane's automatic anti-stalling system repeatedly forced the plane's nose down, even when the plane was not stalling - possibly due to a faulty sensor, the report said.

Pilots however say the control column behaves differently in certain conditions, which could confuse pilots who have flown the earlier model.

The issue was reported, addressed and deemed solved after testing.

The report advised that Lion Air ensure it follows proper operating procedures to improve its "safety culture and to enable the pilot to make proper decisions".

"When it comes to faulting, I don't know, our job isn't to find faults", National Transportation Safety Committee investigator Nurcahyo Utomo said at a news conference Wednesday.

Indonesia plans to bring in a ship from Singapore able to stay in position without dropping anchor, to help with the search.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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