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Lion Air Indonesia Crash - Aviation Lawyer Expresses Serious Concerns Over The Catastrophic Loss of a New Boeing 737 Aircraft

Expert Aviation lawyer and former Boeing AWACS pilot urges prompt answers on the causes of this Boeing 737 tragedy.

The Lion Air flight took off from Jakarta on 29 October 2018 at 6:20 a.m. local time on a scheduled domestic flight to Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang. It is reported that around three minutes into the flight the captain asked the controller for permission to return to the airport as there were flight control problems, following which the aircraft descended and showed fluctuations in its altitude. Workers on an oil platform reportedly saw the aircraft crash with a steep nose-down angle into the sea.  The accident site was located around 34km off the coast of the island of Java.  All 189 passengers and crew were killed in the accident.

There have been further reports that the same aircraft encountered problems during flight the day before the crash, where it had problems maintaining a constant altitude, with passengers stating that it was like "a roller-coaster ride."

The aircraft involved was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, and was delivered new to Lion Air on 13 August 2018.  Following the crash, Indonesia's Transportation Ministry ordered all of the country's airlines to conduct emergency inspections on their 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

The Aviation Team at national law firm Ashfords LLP specialises in representing the victims of air accidents. Jim Morris, a former RAF pilot and Head of Aviation at Ashfords, has significant professional experience in flying large Boeing AWACS aircraft and has acted in a number of air accidents involving Boeing 737 aircraft.

Jim Morris commented: "This catastrophic loss of this almost new Boeing aircraft is extremely concerning and it is crucial that the accident investigators quickly determine what caused this loss of control.  Weather reports at the time indicate that the weather conditions were good so the focus will be on whether there was a technical problem that contributed and/or whether human factors played a role in the loss of the aircraft."

"The Boeing 737 has significant safety redundancy, so barring a catastrophic failure of a major component, a properly trained crew should be able to deal with technical failures and return the aircraft safely to the airport."

With news reports indicating that the pitot tubes, used in the airspeed indication system, may have played a role in the crash, Jim further commented: "The air accident investigators need to  analyse the data from the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) to determine whether a pitot tube or other sensor issue contributed to the crash." 

"Airliner aircraft have a number of sensors that provide important information to the aircrew and aircraft flying systems, such as airspeed and the angle of the aircraft to the airflow (angle of attack).  Where there is a problem with any of these sensors, aircrew need to apply the correct procedures and flying techniques (which may require them to manually fly the aircraft) to maintain the safety of the aircraft."

 "in relation to airspeed, correct airspeed indication is crucial to the operation of an aircraft as the lift from the wings is provided by the speed of air flowing over the wings.  If the aircraft is flown too slow, the wings will not provide sufficient lift leading to an aerodynamic  stall and rapid descent. If the aircraft is flown too fast, exceeding its never exceed speed limit will cause structural damage/ failure that can lead to loss of control.  If there is a pitot tube problem, properly trained aircrew should be able to recognise that the indicated airspeed is unreliable and apply the correct procedures and flying techniques to land the aircraft safely, including flying using power settings that produce known airspeeds and being able to rapidly recognise and correct a situation where the wings are about to stall due to low speed."

"If aircrew do not recognise an airspeed problem and they don't apply the correct techniques, there can be a catastrophic loss of control of the aircraft.  This was the case in the Air France Airbus A330 crash in 2009, where due to a blocked pitot tube the aircraft flew at a speed resulting in an aerodynamic stall, which caused a rapid descent from over 30,000 feet into the sea.  Had the crew correctly recognised the situation and applied the correct stall recovery technique (lowering the nose to gain airspeed to un-stall the wings) the air France aircraft would have recovered safely from the descent."

"Hopefully the Indonesian accident investigators can promptly publish a preliminary accident report on this Lion Air tragedy that identifies the key chain of events that caused this loss of control so that Boeing 737 MAX8 operators and the manufacturer can learn lessons and implement all necessary measure to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again."

Click here to view this article from the Indonesian press.