News Asia-Pacific

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Indonesia orders tests on all Boeing 737-MAX jets after 189 killed in crash

Hunt for victims' bodies and flight recorders goes on as technical problem suspected in air disaster

Probe: Indonesian President Joko Widodo holds a personal item from Flight JT 610. Photo: Getty
Probe: Indonesian President Joko Widodo holds a personal item from Flight JT 610. Photo: Getty

Nicola Smith and Dewi Loveard

Aviation experts have said a small metal tube on the wing of commercial airplanes that measures airspeed could have been responsible for the crash which killed all 189 passengers and crew.

Indonesia has now ordered the inspection of all Boeing 737-MAX airliners as rescue teams recovered more human remains and wreckage from the brand new jet that plunged into the sea.

A victim’s body arrives in Jakarta to be identified. Photo: Reuters
A victim’s body arrives in Jakarta to be identified. Photo: Reuters

The plane had flown erratically the day before the crash and its instruments recorded inaccurate airspeed and altitude readings, according to a number of sources.

Now experts have said a fault with a pitot pipe - which was found to have caused the Air France Flight 447 to crash into the Atlantic in 2009 - could have been responsible.

Maintaining correct airspeed is crucial. If a plane flies too slowly it can stall while if it flies too fast it can break up. In the case of the Air France flight, ice was found to have clogged one of the plane's pitot pipes.

"The erratic flight path makes us suspect a problem with the pitot-static system," Gerry Soejatman, an Indonesian aviation expert, told 'The New York Times'.

Experts told the newspaper it was too early to determine the exact cause of the accident and added it was a combination of equipment malfunctions and human error that often led to crashes.

The Boeing-737 MAX, which went into service just two months ago, crashed into the Java Sea off Indonesia's northern coast moments after it had asked to return to Jakarta on Monday.

Search and rescue personnel examine recovered debris and personal items from Lion Air flight JT 610

Flight JT610 sped up as it suddenly lost altitude and then vanished from radar 12 minutes after take-off, with witnesses saying the single-aisle jet plunged into the water.

The accident has resurrected concerns about Indonesia's patchy air safety record which led to a now-lifted ban on its planes entering US and European airspace.

Yesterday, Indonesia's transport minister ordered an inspection of all 737-MAX aircraft but stopped short of grounding the new models.

Dozens of divers were taking part in the recovery effort along with helicopters and ships.

Authorities are trying to pinpoint the smashed jet's location and flight data recorders.

There were 178 adult passengers, one child, two infants, two pilots and six cabin crew on board.

Divers searched for victims and high-tech equipment was deployed as reports emerged of problems on the jet's previous flight that had terrified passengers.

Search and rescue personnel worked through the night, sending 24 body bags to identification experts while the airline flew dozens of grieving relatives to the country's capital, Jakarta.

The jet's pilot had requested clearance to return to the airport just minutes after take-off, which aviation experts said indicated a problem.

The National Search and Rescue Agency said 10 intact bodies as well as body parts have been recovered. Aircraft debris and personal belongings from ID cards to clothing and bags found scattered in seas northeast of Jakarta have been spread out on tarpaulins at a port to the north of the capital.

Two passengers on the plane's previous flight from Bali to Jakarta on Sunday have described issues that caused frustration and alarm.

Alon Soetanto told TVOne the plane dropped suddenly several times in the first few minutes of its flight: "About three to eight minutes after it took off, I felt like the plane was losing power and unable to rise. That happened several times during the flight.

"We felt like in a roller coaster. Some passengers began to panic and vomit."

In a detailed post online, Indonesian TV presenter Conchita Caroline said boarding of Sunday's flight was delayed by more than an hour and when the plane was being towed, a technical problem forced it to return to its parking space.

She said passengers sat in the cabin without air conditioning for at least 30 minutes listening to an "unusual" engine roar, while some children vomited from the overbearing heat, until staff faced with rising anger let them disembark.

After 30 minutes of waiting on the tarmac, passengers were told to board again while an engine was checked.

Irish Independent

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