The skies were clear.
The aircraft was practically new, having logged just 800 hours since it was delivered in August.
The experienced captain and first officer had 11,000 flying hours between them.
It was supposed to be a quick flight on a regular run for the airline.
In the days since crashed in the waters off Jakarta just minutes after takeoff, most questions remain unanswered—but there are leads. A former member of the National Transportation Safety Board told Seniorhelpline that while it’s too soon to determine a conclusive cause or causes of the crash, which likely claimed the lives of all 189 people on board, investigators have some clues.
One is the airline’s report of an unspecified “issue” on the plane during a flight the day before, which was apparently repaired overnight. “One of the first things they have to do is to look at what was fixed, and how,” said John Goglia, now an aviation consultant with an expertise in aircraft maintenance. “The paper trail should be right there.”
A new report about the technical log from that flight the previous day—from Bali to Jakarta, a two-hour trip—was more specific. The crew had recorded problems reading the instruments that track airspeed and altitude. The details came from a log obtained by the BBC; the airline has yet to comment. But earlier, the BBC reported, Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait said that the glitch had been “resolved,” adding that “when we received the flight crew’s report, we immediately fixed the problem.”
Indonesia’s transportation ministry announced today that all MAX planes operated by airlines in the country must be inspected. (Lion Air has ten remaining.) It stopped short of grounding the planes, however.
Investigators will likely find more clues when they retrieve the crucial black boxes from the ocean. The aircraft was reportedly under 115 feet of water, but Goglia said that shouldn’t keep investigators from retrieving the crucial black boxes. “That’s the same depth as TWA 800,” he said, referring to the 1996 crash off the coast of Long Island, New York, from which the entire fuselage was recovered.
Boeing released a statement saying it will provide technical assistance “at the request and under the direction of government authorities investigating the accident.”
The fact that this is the first major accident involving the 737 MAX 8—one of the newest and most successful models launched in Boeing’s history—is also the focus of attention. The MAX 8 line has been in service since 2017. Lion Air, one of the fastest-growing budget airlines in Southeast Asia, already had 11 of them in its fleet. And while it’s not unusual for a new plane type to experience glitches early on (one terrifying example was the faulty batteries that used to catch fire on Boeing Dreamliners), the 737 MAX is regarded as reliable.
The morning after the glitch, the plane was cleared to take off from Jakarta for the short flight to Pangkal Pinang, a city on an island off Sumatra, but it lost with the air traffic control 13 minutes into the flight.
Indonesia has had a spotty record in aviation safety over the past two decades. Lion Air itself has had many accidents, including a fatal one in , in which 25 people died when a DC-9 crashed in heavy rain in Solo, on Java.
Both the European Union and the U.S. put virtually all of Indonesia’s airlines on a black list in 2007, which effectively barred them from their skies. The ban on Lion Air was lifted in 2016, and all of the country’s carriers had been cleared by this year.