Published: Sun, November 04, 2018
Worldwide | By Victor Meyer

Transport minister awaits investigation into Lion Air plane crash

Transport minister awaits investigation into Lion Air plane crash

THE pilot on the doomed Lion Air jet's previous flight, from Bali, made a distress call to traffic controllers just minutes after takeoff due to technical problems, but chose to push on to Jakarta after the problems seemed to resolve, it has been revealed.

Dozens of relatives of the missing gathered at a police hospital where body bags had been brought for forensic experts to try and identify victims, with techniques such as taking swabs of saliva from families for DNA tests. "The captain said the problem was resolved and he chose to continue the trip to Jakarta".

Indonesia's Tempo news website published a minute-by-minute summary of what it said were the conversations between air traffic control and the pilots of Monday's fatal flight, who reported a "flight control problem" and were unsure of their altitude.

"Because of the Pan-Pan call, we were told to hold off, circling the airport in the air", said the pilot, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Passengers on the Sunday flight from Bali to Jakarta have recounted problems that including a long-delayed take-off for an engine check and terrifying descents in the first 10 minutes in the air. A "pan pan" indicates an urgent situation and is one step below a Mayday.

Divers recovered the crashed jet's flight data recorder from the seafloor on Thursday, a crucial development in the investigation into what caused the 2-month-old plane to plunge into Indonesian seas earlier this week, killing all of its passengers.

Lion Air has said the unspecified problem was fixed after Sunday's flight, but the fatal flight's pilots also made a "return to base" request not long after takeoff.

The Lion Air 737 MAX that crashed on Monday, October 29 had serious control problems the day before, similar to those seen just before the ill-fated flight crashed into the sea.

The Lion Air aircraft which crashed into the Java Sea reportedly had technical problems prior to takeoff the day before.

The search and rescue agency said the flight ended in waters off West Java that are 30 to 35 meters (100 to 115 feet) deep.

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Two passengers on the Sunday Bali-bound flight interviewed on Indonesian TV recalled unsettling details such as a unusual engine sound, a smell of burnt cables, and panicked passengers crying out for God to save them as the plane rapidly lost altitude.

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

Personal items recovered from Lion Air flight JT610 by Search and Rescue personnel.

"I keep praying for a miracle, although, logically, the plane has sunk in the ocean", said Toni Priyono Adhi, whose daughter was aboard.

"Tonight we will move as quickly as possible to download what is in this black box", deputy chief of Indonesia's transportation safety committee (KNKT) Haryo Satmiko told a news conference on Thursday.

But the damage suffered by the device reflected the severity of the impact, said investigators, adding that they did not yet know which of the black boxes, housed at opposite ends of the plane, it came from.

Search teams are also still looking for the plane's second block box recorder, after the first was located on Thursday. Strong currents have hampered search efforts, complicated by the presence of energy pipelines in the area. The downloading of the data will take three weeks.

Results of a preliminary investigation will be made public after 30 days, one official on the investigation team said.

Hopes are fading of finding a large section of fuselage intact, with easily retrievable bodies inside.

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