Lion Air Crash Investigation Reveals Doomed Jet Was Not Airworthy Prior To Final Flight

Part of the black box recovered from the accident of Lion Air Flight 610.
Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images

On October 29, a Lion Air jet crashed into the Java sea just off the coast of Jakarta, Indonesia, approximately 13 minutes after taking off from the capital city. Since then, the search has been on for any and all retrievable parts of the aircraft that could help to explain what happened on board.

Shortly afterwards, passengers on the same aircraft’s previous flight expressed their concern over their own flight, on which they experienced major dips in altitude after taking off. Now it appears that investigators have concluded that the aircraft was not airworthy on the previous flight already, and should never have been allowed to continue on the doomed flight, according to Reuters.

The Boeing 737 MAX jet lost contact with ground control about 13 minutes after takeoff, and witnesses saw it nosedive into the ocean. All 189 people on board, including the crew, were killed in the horrific accident.

The initial investigation indicated that the pilot faced a 13-minute battle with the aircraft to keep it steady in the air, with the pilot actually informing air traffic control that he was struggling with a “flight control problem.” The focus of the investigation was on the airline’s maintenance practices, pilot training, and a Boeing anti-stall system — but said investigation was unable to reach a conclusion with regards to the accident.

Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait spoke on Wednesday evening to refute any media reports that the jet was not airworthy before it departed Denpasar for Jakarta on its penultimate flight. According to KNKT investigator Nurcahyo Utomo, the aircraft was cleared as airworthy by Lion Air engineers before both its penultimate and final flights.

“I think pilots can judge for themselves whether to continue,” said Lion Air Managing Director Daniel Putut, a former pilot.

Meanwhile, Utomo pointed out that there were multiple problems, including the “severe” issue of stall warnings occurring in tandem on the Bali-Jakarta flight, which allowed investigators to conclude that the aircraft should not have continued on its final journey.

En route, the “stick shaker” vibrated throughout the entire flight, leaving the pilots fighting to keep the aircraft stable. An anti-stall system also kept pushing the plane’s nose down. The previous flight’s pilots suffered through their travels with a similar problem, but they were able to shut the system down and continue the flight manually.

“The flight from Denpasar to Jakarta experienced stick shaker activation during the takeoff rotation and remained active throughout the flight,” the committee said after the investigation. “This condition is considered un-airworthy and the flight should have been discontinued.”

The aircraft was inspected after the Denpasar flight following the pilots having reported their problems, and the engineers cleared the aircraft to continue on the next ill-fated flight.

According to Utomo, the agency has not yet determined — without a doubt — whether or not the failing anti-stall system contributed to the accident.