Indonesia finds ‘minor’ faults in two other 737-MAX jets after crash

Officials look at the flight data recorder, part of the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610’s black box, after it was recovered from the Java Sea, at Jakarta port on November 1, 2018. – A black box from the crashed Lion Air jet has been recovered, authorities said on November 1, a find that could be critical to establishing why a brand new jet plunged into the Java Sea shortly after take-off, killing 189 people on board. (Photo by BAY ISMOYO / AFP)

Indonesia’s transport ministry said Friday it had found “minor” faults in two other Boeing 737-MAX 8 jets, including a cockpit indicator display problem which an analyst said may be similar to one reported in the crashed Lion Air Jet.

The ministry is inspecting 10 of the newly released jets owned by Lion and flagship carrier Garuda, as authorities analyse data from a recovered black box that may help explain why flight JT 610 plummeted into the Java Sea, killing 189 people on Monday.

Few details were released, but the ministry said it had looked over half a dozen jets so far and discovered that one had a problem linked to its cockpit display while another had a glitch in a jet stabilisation system.

Both Lion-owned planes required new components, it said.

Aviation analyst Dudi Sudibyo said the cockpit display issue could include a speed-and-altitude glitch reported in the doomed jet.

“With airplanes, even if there is a single, tiny fault it should not fly,” he added.

Stephen Wright, an aviation expert at the University of Leeds, told AFP that the faults identified by the transport ministry were “very minor.”

He added that any problems with the new jet’s pitot-static system — which determines speed and altitude among other measurements — will be key to the probe.

The inspection comes as questions swirl about why a plane that had gone into service just months ago crashed into the sea minutes after takeoff.

The single-aisle jet, en route from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang city, is one of the world’s newest and most advanced commercial passenger planes.

Budget carrier Lion Air’s admission that the doomed jet had a technical issue on a previous flight — as well its abrupt fatal dive — have raised questions about whether it had mechanical faults specific to the new model.

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee said it was interviewing people who flew on the plane the day before the fatal crash.

Some have reported a frightening, erratic trip, an assertion that appears to be backed up by flight tracking data.

Totally destroyed
Earlier Friday, seats, wheels and other parts of the crashed jet were hauled from the depths off Indonesia’s north coast as search teams scoured the seabed for the fuselage.

“There is a lot of little debris, plane wheels, and seats — all totally destroyed and in pieces,” said Isswarto, commander of the Indonesian navy’s search-and-rescue division.

Divers were searching a relatively shallow area about 25-35 metres deep, but have been finding fewer body parts than earlier in the week, he added.

“They’re scattered everywhere and some may have been washed away by the current.”

Dozens of body bags containing remains have been recovered from the crash site.

On Thursday, one of the plane’s black boxes was recovered, and authorities are hunting for the second one.

The black box could offer investigators their best chance of discovering why the jet crashed. The devices help explain nearly 90 percent of all crashes, according to aviation experts.

The devices record information about the speed, altitude and direction of the plane as well as flight crew conversations.

Boeing and US National Transportation Safety Board officials are taking part in the probe.

The search and rescue agency said the recovery effort would continue at least through Sunday.

Preliminary investigation results are expected to be made public by the end of the month.

– Poor safety record –
Passengers’ remains are being sent to hospital for DNA testing, with four passengers identified as of Friday.

The pilot on the doomed plane asked to return to Jakarta before the crash, but it remains unclear what caused the accident.

The accident resurrected concerns about Indonesia’s poor air safety record which until recently saw its carriers facing years-long bans from entering European Union and US airspace.

There were nearly 40 fatal aviation accidents in Indonesia over the past 15 years, according to the Aviation Safety Network, including a 1997 crash that killed 234 people, the country’s deadliest plane accident.

Lion Air — which has had a number of incidents including a fatal 2004 crash — capitalised on an explosion in Indonesia’s domestic air travel market.

But concerns have been raised about pilot shortages in the industry and growth outstripping Indonesia’s strained regulatory and technical resources.

“The growth of the industry here has happened too fast,” said analyst Sudibyo.

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