Indonesia jet had damaged airspeed indicator on last 4 flights before crash
Lion Air crash was 1st involving Boeing 737 Max plane, which went into service last year
The flight data recorder from a crashed Lion Air jet shows it had an airspeed indicator problem on its last four flights, investigators say, after distraught relatives of victims confronted the airline's co-founder at a meeting organized by officials.
The revelation came after data was downloaded from the plane's flight data recorder (an orange device known as a black box), said Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT). The agency was asking Boeing and U.S. authorities what action to take to prevent similar problems on this type of plane around the world, he said.
"We are formulating, with NTSB and Boeing, detailed inspections regarding the airspeed indicator," he said, referring to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
It was not immediately clear whether the reported problem stemmed from a mechanical or maintenance issue, nor whether U.S. authorities would order any checks.
"We don't know yet where the problem lies, what repair has been done, what their reference books are, what components have been removed," said Nurcahyo Utomo, the KNKT subcommittee head for air accidents.
"These are the things we are trying to find out: what was the damage and how it was fixed."
Safety experts say it is too early to determine the cause of the Oct. 29 crash.
'There was no empathy'
At the meeting with family members, Tjahjono had said that information downloaded from the jet's flight data recorder was consistent with reports that the plane's speed and altitude were erratic after takeoff on its final flight. Searchers are still trying to locate the cockpit voice recorder.
Rusdi Kirana, Lion Air's co-founder, was not invited to speak by Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi, who moderated the meeting between relatives and the officials who are overseeing the search effort and accident investigation.
But he stood and bowed his head after angry and distraught family members demanded that Kirana — who with his brother Kusnan Kirana founded Lion Air in 1999 — identify himself.
"Lion Air has failed," said a man who identified himself as the father of passenger Shandy Johan Ramadhan, a prosecutor in a district on the island where the flight was headed.
"I want Mr. Rusdi Kirana and his team to pay attention," he said. "Since the time of the crisis, I was never contacted by Lion Air. We lost our child, but there was no empathy that Lion Air showed to us."
After the meeting, Kirana left in a hurry, avoiding questions from reporters.
Many families face an agonizing wait for missing relatives to be identified. Police medical experts have received nearly 140 body bags of human remains and have identified 14 victims.
Authorities have yet to recover the jet's cockpit voice recorder from the sea floor, just northeast of Jakarta, where the plane crashed 13 minutes after taking off from the Indonesian capital.
Boeing declined to comment. The U.S. manufacturer has delivered 219 737 Max jets to customers globally, according to Boeing's website, and it has 4,564 orders for jets that have yet to be delivered.
The Boeing 737 Max is a more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer's popular single-aisle jet.
The Lion Air crash was the first involving the type of plane, which airlines introduced into service last year.
With files from The Associated Press