Vintage: Lion Air Boeing 737 plane crashes in sea off Jakarta on 29 October 2018
Lion Air Flight 610 was a scheduled domestic flight operated by the Indonesian airline Lion Air from Soekarno–Hatta International Airport in Jakarta to Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang. On 29 October 2018, the Boeing 737 MAX operating the route crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) launched a search and rescue operation, with assistance from the Indonesian Air Force, the Indonesian Navy and the Republic of Singapore Navy. BASARNAS dispatched about 150 people in boats and helicopters to the site of the accident. Civilian vessels also responded to the reports of a downed aircraft and the crew of a tugboat reported to authorities in Tanjung Priok that they had witnessed an aircraft crash at 6h45am and located debris in the water at 7h15am. The Indonesian Agency for Assessment and Application for Technology deployed the research ship Baruna Jaya, which had been previously used in the search for Adam Air Flight 574 and Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501. Communication between air traffic control (ATC) and Flight 610 was suddenly lost at 6h33am. ATC immediately informed the National Search and Rescue Agency, which deployed three ships and a helicopter to the area. At 7h30am, the agency received reports that Flight 610 had crashed a few kilometres from an offshore oil platform. Workers on the platform reportedly saw the aircraft crash with a steep nose-down angle. Boats from the platform were immediately deployed and debris from the crashed aircraft was found shortly after. A command centre was set up in Tanjung Priok. The accident site was located 34 km (18 nmi) off the coast of the island of Java. Unfortunately, a volunteer Indonesian rescue diver died during the search on the afternoon of 2 November 2018 from decompression sickness.
Passengers and crew
There were 189 people on board the aircraft: 181 passengers, 178 adults, 1 child and 2 infants as well as six cabin crew and two pilots. The flight's cockpit crew were captain Bhavye Suneja, a 31-year-old Indian national who had flown with the airline for more than seven years and had about 6 028 hours of flight experience, including 5 176 hours on the Boeing 737 and 41-year-old Indonesian co-pilot Harvino, who had 5 174 hours of flight experience, 4 286 of them on the Boeing 737. The six flight attendants were all Indonesians.
Search, rescue and recovery operations
On 29 October 2018, authorities said that all on board were presumed dead and that the first human remains had been recovered. Divers had located fragments of the aircraft's fuselage and assorted debris but had yet to find the onboard flight recorders. An official from the Indonesian National Armed Forces suggested that most of the victims were still inside the fuselage, as in the days following the crash rescue personnel only managed to recover a small number of body parts. Officials stated that bad visibility and strong sea current hampered the search and rescue effort.
On the same day, the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency published the area of the search and rescue operation. It was divided into two main areas. The first was a 115 km underwater search area while the second was a “visual search” area, 124 nautical miles wide.
On 30 October 2018, the search area was divided into 13 sectors. The search area was widened to 280 km reaching as far as Indramayu to the east. Approximately 850 personnel from the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency, Indonesian National Armed Forces and volunteers participated in the operation. At least 13 bodies were retrieved from the crash site. Indonesian officials confirmed that faint pings had been heard in the search area.
On 31 October 2018, it was reported that acoustic ‘pings’ had been detected, no further than 3km from the group of eight current search points, which were possibly from one or both of the underwater locator beacons (ULBs) attached to the aircraft's flight recorders.
The first victim was identified on 31 October 2018. At the time, more than a dozen body parts had been found by authorities. Some of the parts had drifted more than 5km in the sea current. Police also reported that 152 DNA samples had been collected from the victims' relatives. Hundreds of pieces of the aircraft had also been recovered; all of them were transported to Tanjung Priok, Jakarta. Authorities stated that the search area for dead bodies and debris would be focused in the sea off Karawang Regency, a coastal area of Java close to the crash site, as analysis showed that the sea currents in the area would bring debris to the south. A command centre was set up in Tanjung Pakis, Karawang to oversee the salvage effort.
On the same day, authorities widened the search area from 19 to 28km. In all, 39 ships, including four equipped with sonar, and 50 divers were deployed to the search area. The Indonesian National Police announced that 651 personnel had joined and assisted in the search and rescue operation. Officials stated that the operation, starting from 31 October 2018, would focus on finding the fuselage of the aircraft and the flight recorders.
The joint search and rescue team announced on 31 October 2018 that at least three objects, one of which was suspected to be one of the aircraft's wings, were found in the search area. Officials confirmed that ‘pings’ from the aircraft's ULBs were also heard near the area.
On 1 November 2018, searchers announced that they had found Flight 610's flight data recorder (FDR), which was located at a depth of 32m. The cockpit voice recorder (CVR), however, was reported as not yet found. According to a transport safety official, authorities did not initially know for certain whether the ‘crash survivable memory unit’ was from the flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder, as portions of it were missing. Haryo Satmiko, deputy chief of Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) (Indonesian: Komite Nasional Keselamatan Transportasi), the body investigating the crash, said that the device's poor condition was evidence of the “extraordinary impact” of the crash, which had separated the memory unit from its housing. Despite the damage, investigators were able to recover data from the aircraft's most recent 19 flights spanning 69 hours and planned to begin analysis on 5 November 2018.
On 2 November 2018, the joint search and rescue team deployed more than 850 personnel and 45 vessels to the crash site. The aerial search area was widened to 350km and the “underwater search area” was widened to 500km. Joint search and rescue team announced that some engine parts were found in the search area. One of the aircraft's landing gears was recovered in the afternoon. Meanwhile, the Disaster Victim Identification team stated that at least 250 body parts had been recovered from the crash site.
A second landing gear and both of the aircraft's engines were recovered by search and rescue personnel and the main body of the aircraft had been located. The main wreckage of the aircraft was located 13,9km from the coast of Tanjung Pakis and was about 200m from the location where the FDR was discovered. Divers were immediately dispatched to the area. Faint ‘pings’ from the ULB attached to the aircraft's CVR were also heard.
On 4 November 2018, nearly 1 400 personnel, including 175 divers, were dispatched to the crash site. 69 ships, five helicopters and 30 ambulances were also dispatched. The Head of the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency Muhammad Syaugi announced that the search and rescue operation would be extended for another three days.
On 10 November 2018 the NSRA ended its search for victims but on 22 November 2018 were continuing to search intensively for the CVR.
On 23 November 2018, investigators concluded the victim identification process. Out of 189 people on board, 125 (89 men and 36 women) were identified, including the two foreigners. Another 64 bodies are still unaccounted for.
On 14 December 2018, it was reported that Lion Air had paid US$2,8 million for a second attempt to search for the CVR, with a specialised boat being brought in to assist in the search, expected to last 10 days. The attempt began on 20 December 2018 but ended on 3 January 2019 without success.
The NTSC announced plans to launch their own search and were negotiating with the Indonesian Navy to borrow one of their ships. On 8 January 2019, they announced they would be resuming the search for the CVR, using their own funding. The CVR was finally found and recovered by the Indonesian Navy near the crash site, at a depth of 30m but covered by mud that was 8m thick, on 14 January 2019, more than two months after the accident.
It was the first major accident involving the new Boeing 737 MAX series of aircraft, introduced in 2017 and the deadliest involving the Boeing 737 series, surpassing Air India Express Flight 812 in 2010. It is the deadliest accident in Lion Air's 18-year history, surpassing the 2004 crash in Surakarta that killed 25 and the second deadliest aircraft accident in Indonesia behind Garuda Indonesia Flight 152.
The Indonesian government deployed a search and rescue operation which found debris early the same morning and recovered human remains from a 280km wide area. The first victim was identified two days after the crash. The flight data recorder was located on 1 November 208 and recovered for analysis. One member of the volunteer rescue team died during recovery operations. The cockpit voice recorder was found on 14 January 2019.
Preliminary investigations revealed serious flight control problems that traumatised passengers and crew on the aircraft's previous flight, as well as signs of Angle of attack (AoA) sensor and other instrument failures on that and previous flights, tied to a design flaw involving the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) of the 737 MAX series. As a result, the United States Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing issued warnings and training advisories to all operators of the 737 MAX series to avoid letting the MCAS cause an abrupt dive similar to the Lion Air flight.
However, these advisories were not fully implemented and the design issues are suspected to be involved in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash on 10 March 2019, prompting a worldwide grounding of all 737 MAX aircraft.
A summary of the October 2019 final report says that “MCAS was the primary cause of the crash, a faulty sensor, inadequate maintenance, poor pilot training and a failure to heed previous problems with the same aircraft were all contributing factors.”
On 29 October, Indonesia's Transportation Ministry ordered all of the country's airlines to conduct emergency inspections on their 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The ministry would also launch a special audit on Lion Air to see if there were any problems with its management system. The Transportation Ministry announced that all Indonesian Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft were airworthy and were allowed to resume normal operations on 31 October 2018. On 1 November 2018, Indonesian Minister of Transportation Budi Karya Sumadi announced that the government would evaluate every low-cost carrier in Indonesia.
The incident is reported to be the first major accident involving a Boeing 737 Max - an updated version of the 737. The 737 Max series were the fastest-selling planes in Boeing history and there are four models - the Max 7, Max 8, Max 9 and Max 10. The Boeing 737 Max 8 had been in commercial use since 2016. The aircraft involved in the crash was made in 2018. It is a single aisle plane used for short-haul travel.
On 10 March 2019, another 737 MAX 8, operated by Ethiopian Airlines (registration ET-AVJ), crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa; all 157 people on board perished. This raised further concerns about the safety of the 737 MAX and culminated in all 737 MAX aircraft being grounded worldwide for an indefinite amount of time.
Sources: BBC, CNN, Jakarta News, The Telegraph, The Guardian