Lion Air jet's airspeed indicator malfunctioned on four flights

Rusdi Kirana

Indonesian accident investigators said on Monday that an airspeed indicator on the crashed jet was damaged for its last four flights, but United States authorities responded cautiously to suggestions of fleet-wide checks.

The advice is based on preliminary information gathered in the investigation of a Lion Air flight that crashed in Indonesia last week killing all 189 on board, the person said.

The damage was revealed after data had been downloaded from the plane's flight data recorder, KNKT chief Soerjanto Tjahjono told reporters, adding that it was asking Boeing and U.S. authorities what action to take to prevent similar problems on this type of plane around the world.

Investigators said the plane's flight data recorder indicated that the airspeed indicator malfunctioned during three previous flights as well. The NTSB, which conducts accident investigations and is assisting Indonesia in the probe, didn't respond to a request for comment.

Logs obtained by the BBC have already shown that on the Boeing 737 Max's penultimate flight, airspeed readings were unreliable. "Data from the black box showed that the two flights before Denpasar-Jakarta also experienced the same problem".

"There were four flights in all that suffered a problem with the airspeed indicator", NTSC head Soerjanto Tjahjono told reporters.

Alan Diehl, a pilot and safety consultant, said the report that the same problem happened four times and was never fixed suggests that the problem may have been intermittent, making it harder to pin down.

Lion Air owner, Rusdi Kirana, right, stands up during the conference.

Six black box experts from four different countries are now analyzing the flight data recorder to piece together the last moments of the 737 before it crashed.

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Investigator Nurcahyo Utomo said investigators need to review maintenance records, including what problems were reported, what repairs were done including whether components were replaced, and how the repairs were tested before the 2-month-old plane was declared airworthy. Searchers are still trying to locate the cockpit voice recorder on the flight. "This is what we do not know yet and we will find it out", he said.

Lion Air president director Edward Sirait said the carrier hadn't yet received any bulletins from Boeing.

"After 10 minutes in the air the plane dropped as if it was losing power".

That included three flights that landed safely, as well as the deadly crash on October 29, when flight JT610 crashed minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia, with 189 people on board.

As the 270-square-mile search for debris widened over the weekend, Indonesian authorities broadened a review of Lion Air's operations, including the airline's standard operating procedures and flight-crew qualifications.

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.

The day before the crash, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 - which had only around 800 flying hours on the clock - had experienced a significant drop in altitude on a flight from Bali to Jakarta, passenger Robbi Gaharu said.

He said, "The plane was intact when it plunged to the sea, it did not explode in the air, and the aircraft engine was running when it touched the water at high RPM - it's marked by the loss of all blades of the turbine".

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