Lion Air plane crash: At doomed flight’s helm, pilots may have been overwhelmed in seconds

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Nov 9: The final moments of Lion Air Flight 610 as it hurtled soon after dawn from a calm Indonesian sky into the waters of the Java Sea would have been terrifying but swift.
The single-aisle Boeing aircraft, assembled in Washington state and delivered to Lion Air less than three months ago, appears to have plummeted nose-first into the water, its advanced jet engines racing the plane toward the waves at as much as 400 mph in less than a minute. The aircraft slammed into the sea with such force that some metal fittings aboard were reduced to powder, and the aircraft’s flight data recorder tore loose from its armored box, propelled into the muddy seabed.
As US and Indonesian investigators puzzle through clues of what went wrong, they are focusing not on a single lapse but on a cascade of troubling issues that ended with the deaths of all 189 people on board.
That is nearly always the case in plane crashes, in which disaster can rarely be pinned on one factor. While investigators have not yet concluded what caused Flight 610 to plunge into the sea, they know that in the days before the crash the plane had experienced repeated problems in some of the same systems that could have led the aircraft to go into a nose dive.
Questions about those problems and how they were handled constitute a sobering reminder of the trust we display each time we strap on seat belts and take to the skies in a metal tube.
On October 29, on a morning with little wind, what appears to have been a perfect storm of problems – ranging from repeated data errors emanating from aircraft instruments to an airline with a distressing safety record – may have left the plane’s young pilot with an insurmountable challenge. On Wednesday, the US Federal Aviation Administration warned that erroneous data processed in the new, best-selling Max 8 jet could cause the plane to abruptly nose-dive. Investigators examining Flight 610 are trying to determine if that is what happened.
Boeing this week issued a global bulletin advising pilots to follow its operations manual in such cases. But to do so, experts said, would have required Flight 610’s captain, Bhavye Suneja, a 31-year-old Indian citizen, and his co-pilot, Harvino, a 41-year-old Indonesian, to have made decisions in seconds at a moment of near-certain panic.
They would have had to recognize that a problem with the readings on the cockpit display was causing the sudden descent. Then, according to the FAA, they would have had to grab physical control of the plane.
That would not have been a simple matter of pushing a button. Instead, pilots said, Suneja could have braced his feet on the dashboard and yanked the yoke, or control wheel, back with all his strength. Or he could have undertaken a four-step process to shut off power to electric motors in the aircraft’s tail that were wrongly causing the plane’s nose to pitch downward. (Agencies)