Doomed Lion Air 737 almost crashed one day before tragedy

The US Department of Transportation, Congress and the Justice Department are spearheading the inquiries into what the Federal Aviation Administration may have overlooked when it said the aircraft was safe.

As Ethiopian investigators pored over black box data from their crash, sources with knowledge of the doomed Lion Air cockpit voice recorder revealed how pilots scoured a manual in a losing battle to figure out why they were hurtling down to sea. His presence on that flight, first reported by Bloomberg, was not disclosed in the preliminary report. A stall is when the airflow over a plane's wings is too weak to generate lift and keep it flying.

The prestige of Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa's most successful companies, and Boeing, the world's biggest planemaker and a massive U.S. exporter, is at stake in the inquiry.

Beijing's acquisition of the planes would help even out the trade balance between the two countries, something that was one of US President Donald Trump's key demands for a new trade deal with China.

The cause of the Lion Air crash has not been determined, but the preliminary report mentioned the Boeing system, a faulty, recently replaced sensor and the airline's maintenance and training. Why didn't we put safety first?

The combination of factors required to bring down a plane in these circumstances suggests other issues may also have occurred in the Ethiopia crash, said Jeffrey Guzzetti, who also directed accident investigations at FAA and is now a consultant.

"They didn't seem to know the trim was moving down", the third source said.

"We can't provide additional comment at this stage due the ongoing investigation on the accident", Lion Air spokesman Danang Prihantoro said by phone.

Critics have questioned the FAA's practice of using employees of aircraft manufacturers to handle some safety inspections.

A different crew on the same plane the evening before encountered the same problem but solved it after running through three checklists, according to the November report.

Boeing Company, the world's biggest planemaker, faces growing obstacles to returning its grounded 737 Max fleet to the skies, while details emerged of potential similarities between the two crashes.

But they stress neither investigation is complete and crew actions and training will also be closely scrutinized.

In Ethiopia, which is leading the investigation of the crash, experts were poring over the in-flight recording of the captain and first officer.

For now, regulators have grounded the existing fleet of more than 300 MAX aircraft and deliveries of almost 5,000 more-worth well over $500 billion-are on hold.

The MAX, which offers cost savings of about 15 per cent on fuel, was developed for service from 2017 after the successful launch by its main rival of the Airbus A320neo.

Boeing has suspended 737 MAX deliveries but is continuing to make the planes.

  • Jon Douglas