A doomed Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 that crashed shortly after takeoff on March 10 had “clear similarities” to an October 2018 crash of the same type of airplane, according to Ethiopia’s transport minister. Today, Reuters sheds light on exactly what happened that fateful day last year off the coast of Indonesia.
According to a new report, the cockpit voice recorder of the October crash which killed all 189 people onboard reveals that the pilots were scouring the plane’s manual to understand why the plane kept lurching downwards – only to run out of time before it hit the water, reports Reuters, citing three people with knowledge of the cockpit voice recorder contents.
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 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.”
The pilots of the doomed Lion Air flight remained calm for most of the flight according to the report, however near the end “Near the end, the captain asked the first officer to fly while he checked the manual for a solution.”
As we reported Tuesday night, the same plane was saved by a ‘dead-head’ pilot the day before.
According to Bloomberg, an off-duty pilot hitching a ride from Bali to Jakarta was able to explain to the crew how to disable a malfunctioning flight-control system by cutting power to a motor driving the nose of the plane down.
The previously undisclosed detail supports the suggestion that a lack of training is may be at least partially to blame in the March 10 crash of another 727 Max 8.
The previously undisclosed detail on the earlier Lion Air flight represents a new clue in the mystery of how some 737 Max pilots faced with the malfunction have been able to avert disaster while the others lost control of their planes and crashed. The presence of a third pilot in the cockpit wasn’t contained in Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee’s Nov. 28 report on the crash and hasn’t previously been reported. –Bloomberg
As we noted last week, several pilots had repeatedly warned federal authorities of the Max 8’s shortcomings, with one pilot describing the plane’s flight manual as “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.”
“The fact that this airplane requires such jury-rigging to fly is a red flag. Now we know the systems employed are error-prone — even if the pilots aren’t sure what those systems are, what redundancies are in place and failure modes. I am left to wonder: what else don’t I know?” wrote the captain.
After the Lion Air crash, two U.S. pilots’ unions said the potential risks of the system, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, hadn’t been sufficiently spelled out in their manuals or training. None of the documentation for the Max aircraft included an explanation, the union leaders said. –Bloomberg
“We don’t like that we weren’t notified,” said Southwest Airlines Pilots Association president Jon Weaks in November. “It makes us question, ‘Is that everything, guys?’ I would hope there are no more surprises out there.”
In the Lion Air crash, a malfunctioning sensor is believed to have tricked the plane’s computers to force the nose of the plane down to avoid a stall. Following the March 10 crash less than six months later – which followed a “very similar” track to the Lion Air flight, All Boeing 737 Max 8s were grounded by US regulators following dozens of countries and airlines doing so first.
“After this horrific Lion Air accident, you’d think that everyone flying this airplane would know that’s how you turn this off,” said former FAA accident investigation division director Steve Wallace.
Meanwhile, investigators are now looking into how the new 737 model was approved. The Transportation Department’s inspector general has begun an inquiry into the plane’s certification, while a grand jury under the US DOJ is also seeking records in a possible criminal investigation of the plane’s certification.
“We will fully cooperate in the review in the Department of Transportation’s audit,” said Boeing spokesman Charles Bickers.