London — New information has emerged about the crash late last year of a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 8 jet in Indonesia that suggests the flight crew was ill prepared to deal with a problematic new flight control system. CBS News reported in November that Lion Air Flight JT610’s flight data recorder showed the pilots battled the new anti-stall system known as “MCAS” for much of the doomed 11-minute flight. Now a report citing data from the other so-called black box, the cockpit voice recorder, suggests the flight crew didn’t even understand what they were fighting, and may have had no idea how to override the malfunctioning system.
The Reuters news agency quoted three people “with knowledge of the cockpit voice recorder contents” as saying the pilots could be heard frantically scouring a quick reference guide to figure out why the nearly-new jet was repeatedly going into a dive. The recording apparently includes audio of the pilots speculating about a problem with the plane’s airspeed controls, not the MCAS system.The MCAS system has emerged as one of the central themes in the investigations into the Lion Air disaster and the crash just five months later of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 jet. Investigators have acknowledged “clear similarities” between the two disasters, and Boeing’s 737 Max jets have been grounded globally.
Separately, Bloomberg reported Tuesday that the same Lion Air plane that crashed on Oct. 29 may have narrowly avoided a crash the previous day, thanks to a pilot hitching a ride in the cockpit who correctly diagnosed the problem and told the flight crew how to fix it.It was a different crew operating the 737 Max the day after that incident, Bloomberg said, citing two people with knowledge of Indonesia’s investigation into the crash.The reports raise further questions about the training provided for pilots before they were put behind the controls of Boeing’s newest passenger jet, which entered commercial use in 2017.CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave reported this week that U.S. airline pilots were initially given just 56 minutes of training — on an iPad — about the differences between the new Boeing Max planes and the older 737s. It remains unclear what training was given to non-U.S. airline pilots, but in its report Bloomberg said the hitchhiking pilot who may have saved the flight the day before the Lion Air disaster, “told the crew to cut power to the motor driving the nose down … part of a checklist that all pilots are required to memorize.”Boeing 737 Max pilots can flip just two switches to override the MCAS system. The flight control system is known to have malfunctioned on multiple flights, wrongly sensing a dangerous rate of ascent due to a faulty exterior sensor and overcorrecting by pushing the nose of the plane down.Another major question being asked in the wake of the two crashes is whether Boeing was too closely involved in the U.S. government’s certification process for the new aircraft.