Report: Third Pilot Saved Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 Day Before Deadly Crash

Mar 20, 2019

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The day before the crash of Lion Air flight 610, the first deadly crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane, a third off-duty pilot saved the same plane from crashing by disabling the automatic system thought to have caused the accident by repeatedly pushing the aircraft nose down, according to a new report from Bloomberg.

The third pilot on the near-fatal Lion Air flight was riding in the cockpit jump seat as a so-called “dead head” pilot. He was able to jump into action to help the on-duty flight crew by instructing them to cut power to the motor driving the nose down, which is reportedly part of a checklist pilots memorize, Bloomberg says, citing people familiar with the situation. Passengers on that flight, the day before the fatal crash, describe a roller coaster of erratic speed and altitude changes similar to what Flight 610 experienced before plunging into the Java sea.

The automatic system, installed to keep the aircraft nose from tipping too high and causing a stall, is potentially behind two similar fatal crashes with Boeing’s MAX 8 jet: Lion Air flight 610 that crashed in Indonesia in October 2018 and killed 189 people and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 that crashed outside of Addis Ababa earlier in March, killing 157 people. Initial investigations show both crashes had similar aircraft malfunctions. Since the two accidents, all models of the MAX 8 have been grounded across the globe.

After the Lion Air crash, Boeing received widespread backlash because it reportedly didn’t tell pilots about the new automatic system. Boeing denied withholding any pertinent information from pilots.

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee released a crash report on Lion Air flight 610 in November 2018 that said the plane had issues on previous flights that were never satisfactorily repaired.

Boeing is introducing a software upgrade for the plane system in question. The US Department of Transportation’s Inspector General is looking into how the plane passed authorization with the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Justice Department is examining a possible criminal investigation.

Featured photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

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