The Lion Air 737 MAX Accident Is One Step Closer to Solution

Jan 14, 2019

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Indonesian officials said Monday that navy divers have finally recovered the cockpit voice recorder from downed Lion Air flight 610, which suddenly plunged into the Java Sea minutes after takeoff on Oct. 29, killing all 189 people on board.

The recorder, the key missing piece of the investigation into why the two-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet crashed after a rollercoaster of speed and altitude changes, was finally found lodged in the muddy seabed 98 feet underwater. Lt. Col. Agung Nugroho, a spokesperson for the Indonesian Navy, told the AP that the divers started a new effort to locate the voice recorder last week using high-tech “ping locator” devices in an area of the sea that had been identified in the earlier search endeavor.

Officials also said that more bodies of people who died in the crash were also discovered in the vicinity of the recording device. The recorder has been sent to Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, the bureau overseeing the investigation, to be analyzed.

An essential part of any plane crash investigation, cockpit voice recorders, one of the so-called “black boxes” on an aircraft, contain audio from the flight deck like conversations between the pilots and any alarms or sensor alerts that would have sounded. These details will hopefully fill in information gaps for investigators.

“To analyze it, we need more time, depending on the complexity of the problem,” Soerjanto Tjahjono, chairman of the nation’s transportation committee told the AP, noting it would take three to five days to dry out the voice recorder and download its information. “Data obtained from CVR is expected to complete our investigation data,” he said.

The plane’s flight data recorder, another “black box” that shows the plane’s final movements, was retrieved from the sea in November 2018. Officials who analyzed that recorder’s data found that an automatic system on the 737 MAX 8 aircraft pushed the plane’s nose down more than two dozen times, and the pilots were struggling to correct that. Lion Air and other operators of the MAX 8 claim Boeing did not disclose the existence of the automatic system, meant to keep pilots from pushing the aircraft nose dangerously high. Boeing denies withholding relevant information.

A preliminary crash report based on the flight data recorder’s information stated that a sensor used in conjunction with the automatic system was malfunctioning, but that report did not list an official cause of the crash. Investigators and families of the downed plane’s victims hope that the cockpit voice recorder can provide the missing pieces of the puzzle.

“This is good news, especially for us who lost our loved ones,” Irianto, whose daughter Rio Nanda Pratama died in the crash — and who like many Indonesians uses only one name — told the AP. “Even though we don’t yet know the contents of the CVR, this is some relief from our despair.”

Featured image by Aditya Irawan/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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