Indonesia investigates Lion Air after crash

An Indonesian rescue team lift a pair tires from the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 off Karawang in the Java Sea on 4 November 2018. (Azwar Ipank / AFP)

Indonesian authorities are conducting a review of the operations of Lion Air, the transport ministry said, as the search for the main wreckage and cockpit voice recorder of the crashed Boeing jet continues into a seventh day.

The “special audit” will cover the standard operating procedures of the airline, the flight crew qualifications and coordination with industry stakeholders, the ministry said in a statement. The ministry is coordinating with institutions such as the European Union, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Federal Aviation Administration and corrective steps will be taken on the basis of the review, it said.

Indonesian authorities intensified inspection of all aircraft in service with President Joko Widodo asking airlines to accord the highest priority to passenger safety after Lion Air’s flight JT610, a Boeing 737 Max 8 jet, plunged into the Java Sea off Jakarta on 29 October. The government had already ordered a review of Lion’s repair and maintenance unit and suspended several managers as it emerged the ill-fated jet had reported some technical issues a day before the crash.

The transport ministry is coordinating with airport authorities, navigation operators and airlines among others to ensure airworthiness at all airports in Indonesia is well maintained, Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said.

Even after a week-long search involving dozens of ships and hundreds of specialists, the plane’s main wreckage and the cockpit voice recorder that’s key to unravelling the mystery, are yet to be recovered. While the National Search and Rescue Agency had on Saturday said its divers had spotted the main body of the plane, its chief M. Syaugi said on Sunday the images spotted were only the skin of the aircraft on the seabed.

While search crews have been scouring a 270-square-mile area since the jet crashed, strong underwater currents and a mud seabed have made the task of finding the fuselage and the black box harder. More than 1,400 personnel from the navy, army and the search agency are using ROVs, dozens of vessels and helicopters in the underwater and aerial search.

The search agency will now sweep a wider area for debris and remains of the victims and continue the search for another three days, Syaugi told reporters.

Black box

Search crews have recovered a flight data recorder, both the engines, a part of the landing gear, body parts of victims and personal belongings since the flight carrying 189 people plummeted into the sea.

While it may take days or weeks before definitive information emerges on the crash, Lion Air has said the aircraft had experienced problems with sensors used to calculate height and speed in its previous flight from Denpasar, Bali, to Jakarta. The issue was checked by maintenance workers overnight before the plane was cleared for the ill-fated flight, the airline said. It’s too early to determine what led to the disaster, the carrier’s owner Rusdi Kirana has said.

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee recovered about 69 hours of flying data by the crashed jet during its last 19 trips, it said in a statement on Sunday. The agency will begin analysing the information from Monday to find out the reasons for the crash, Nurcahyo Utomo, the head of aviation accidents investigation sub-committee, told reporters.

“We will use data from previous flights, especially from Denpasar to Jakarta, to find the cause of the crash,” Utomo said. “We especially want to know how it managed to land the day before.”

The nation’s domestic airline market has boomed in recent years to become the fifth largest in the world. Local air traffic more than tripled between 2005 and 2017 to 97 million people, according to the CAPA Centre for Aviation, and is dominated by flag carrier PT Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air Group.

Carriers have struggled with safety issues, partly as a result of the pace of that expansion, as well as issues intrinsic to a region of mountainous terrain, equatorial thunderstorms and often underdeveloped aviation infrastructure.