On Oct. 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight JT 610 crashed into the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia. All 189 people aboard the plane, including several children, were killed in the tragedy. Baum Hedlund represents one family who lost their loved one in this crash.
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane departed from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta at 6:21 a.m. local time heading to Pangkal Pinang Airport on Bangka, an island off Sumatra. The flight was carrying 181 passengers, six crew members, and two pilots.
Moments after takeoff, pilot Bhavye Suneja of India told air traffic control the plane was experiencing “technical difficulties” and asked to return to base (RTB). According to AirNav Indonesia, the agency that oversees air traffic control, Suneja did not indicate that there was an emergency.
Websites that track flight data show that Lion Air Flight JT 610 sped up as it suddenly lost altitude moments before AirNav lost contact with the aircraft. The commercial airliner plunged into the Java Sea at approximately 13 minutes after takeoff.
The horrific international plane crash involved the Boeing 737 MAX 8, an updated, more fuel-efficient version of the Boeing 737. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 operating as Lion Air JT 610 was a nearly brand new airplane; it had been in operation since August 2018.
According to Lion Air President Edward Sirait, the plane had a “technical problem” on its previous flight from Bali to Jakarta the night before the crash but was repaired in Denpasar (Bali) before it was flown to Jakarta. “Engineers in Jakarta received notes and did another repair before it took off,” Sirait told the media. “That’s the normal procedure for any plane,” Sirait added that the airline has no intention to ground any of the other Boeing 737 MAX planes in its fleet.
Lawyers Representing Lion Air Crash Families
The aviation attorneys at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in the Lion Air Flight JT 610 crash. In the aftermath of the Lion Air Flight JT 610 crash, a family retained our firm to represent their interests in litigation against Boeing and Lion Air.
The aviation attorneys of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman have represented victims in many types of international aviation accident cases, including commercial airline crashes that involve American companies, including The Boeing Company, Honeywell, and Rolls Royce, that sold defectively designed aircraft and parts to international customers.
Our firm has litigated international air crash cases against these airlines (among others):
- Aero Mexico
- Asiana Airlines
- British European Airways
- China Eastern Airlines
- Korean Air
- Singapore Airlines
- SAS-Scandinavian Airline Systems
- TACA Airlines
We have proven time and again that we can effectively investigate and litigate international airline crashes, no matter the distance. Contact us today to speak with an experienced international airline crash attorney and protect your legal rights.
An investigation into the cause of the Lion Air crash focused on a variety of issues, including the performance of the aircraft, maintenance records, and the actions of the flight crew. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed on Oct. 29, 2018, was delivered to Lion Air in August of 2018 and put into service immediately. The plane had surpassed 800 hours of flight time, according to reports. Two CFM LEAP-1B engines power Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes.
Flight tracking data of Lion Air JT 610 raised more questions than answers. According to preliminary data, the plane was descending at 30,976 feet per minute, which is roughly 348 miles per hour. Such speed is typical for mid-flight but unheard of during descent. Also troubling, Lion Air Flight JT 610 climbed repeatedly with varying airspeeds before it eventually plunged into the Java Sea.
“Every crash has one or more causes,” said board-certified trial lawyer and aviation accident attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman in the days after the Lion Air crash. “Only a thorough, unbiased investigation can find them.”
“This brand new airplane had apparently experienced a prior failure. Was this airplane a lemon? Was the prior fault properly fixed? Were the mechanics and pilots properly trained? Does this Boeing 737 MAX, a new iteration of the storied 737, have a dangerous design defect? These, and many other questions, must be answered to ensure the safety of the millions of passengers destined to fly on the B737 MAX.”
The flight crew, which consisted of pilot Bhavye Suneja and co-pilot Harvino (it is common for Indonesians to use only one name), were experienced. Suneja had accumulated more than 6,000 hours of flight time and Harvino had 5,000 hours, according to Lion Air. Aviation experts say it is peculiar that the pilots did not declare an emergency when they notified air traffic control of their intention to return to the airport. Declaring an emergency would have given the plane priority to land.
Weather conditions at the time of the flight were safe, officials said. Clouds associated with turbulence were not present and winds were light.
Boeing and FAA Issue Safety Alert Following Lion Air Crash
Eight days after the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, Boeing issued a flight crew operations manual (FCOM) bulletin for airlines operating 737 MAX model 8 and 9 planes, warning of erroneous cockpit readings during manual flight.
According to Boeing, erroneous angle-of-attack (AOA) data can trigger automatic nose-down inputs. The Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee confirmed that the Lion Air Flight 610 pilots received erroneous AOA data prior to the fatal crash.
An AOA sensor sits outside of a plane and gives pilots a visual reading of “the angle between the oncoming air or relative wind and a reference line on the airplane or wing,” according to Boeing. The instrument is vital because it warns the flight crew if the plane is flying at too high an angle of attack, which can cause an aerodynamic wing stall.
“An erroneous AOA can cause the pitch trim system to trim the stabilizer nose down,” the FCOM bulletin warns. “The nose-down stabilizer trim movement can be stopped and reversed with the use of the electric stabilizer trim switches but can restart after the electric stabilizer trim switches are released. The [bulletin] directs flight crews to existing procedures to address this condition.”
The bulletin emphasizes that pilots must follow specific flight crew operations manual procedures to keep the aircraft from an uncommanded descent.
Aviation accident attorney Clay Robbins III says Boeing’s FCOM bulletin fails to address all possible safety issues and corrective measures from the Lion Air tragedy:“There should be a separate service bulletin to address the AOA system failure diagnosis, repair/replacement, and any related design, software and other changes required to eliminate the problem.This FCOM bulletin fails to describe to flight crews, operators and airworthiness authorities why this issue can only occur in manually controlled flight and not when the autopilot is engaged. Significant safety issues could be associated with this AOA system failure occurring with the autopilot engaged because whatever alerts and indications occur with the autopilot engaged may lead the flight crew to disengage the autopilot and suddenly be faced with this same runaway stabilizer trim scenario.In short, I believe Boeing’s FCOM bulletin fails to tell the whole story, which could ultimately lead to operators not being able to safely deal with such a failure when it occurs on their 737 MAX.”
A day after Boeing issued its FCOM bulletin, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 owners and operators, citing “an erroneously high single angle of attack (AOA) sensor input.”
“This condition, if not addressed, could cause the flight crew to have difficulty controlling the airplane, and lead to excessive nose-down attitude, significant altitude loss, and possible impact with terrain,” the AD said.
What Caused the Lion Air Flight JT 610 Plane Crash?
After a lengthy investigation, officials found that design failures on the Boeing plane were among the main causes of the crash. According to the report, an important aircraft part called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) activated during the flight.
The MCAS uses a single sensor outside of the plane to compute when a dangerous condition has developed. It is intended to automatically lower the plane’s nose to head off an aerodynamic stall.
In the Lion Air crash, the sensor fed the MCAS erroneous data which caused the MCAS to force the plane’s nose down, leaving the pilots fighting for control. According to the Lion Air crash report, the pilots did not know the MCAS existed – Boeing did not disclose any information about the MCAS in its flight manual or pilot training for the MAX 8.
According to internal emails and communications that were turned over to the U.S. government as part of an investigation into the Boeing 737 MAX, company employees mocked the designers of the MAX as well as the FAA.
“This airplane is designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys,” a Boeing employee said in a 2017 exchange.
In a 2018 communication just months before the Lion Air crash, a Boeing employee wrote: “Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t.”
“No,” the colleague responded.
In January of 2021, the U.S. Justice Department announced that Boeing will pay more than $2.5 billion in charges and fines for misleading the FAA before and after the Lion Air Flight 610 crash and the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash.
The $2.5 billion includes a $243.6 million “criminal monetary penalty,” $1.77 billion in compensation to Boeing 737 MAX airline customers, and a $500 million beneficiaries fund to compensate the families and legal beneficiaries of the passengers tragically killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the Lion Air crash. These fines and charges are in addition to the $100 million that Boeing has already set aside to settle claims brought by the families of the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crash victims.
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman represents several families who lost loved ones in both the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the Lion Air crash. According to the firm’s aviation attorneys, the DOJ resolution will have no bearing on the civil litigation against Boeing and other defendants, which is still ongoing.
Lion Air Has Checkered Safety Record
Lion Air, a privately-owned Indonesian airline, was founded in 1999 to provide low-cost domestic and international flights. It is the country’s largest airline based on passengers served and one of the largest low-cost airlines in the world.
While Lion Air has grown considerably over the last several years, the airline does have a checkered safety history. These incidents occurred prior to the Oct. 29, 2018 crash of Lion Air JT 610:
- 2018 – In September, two Lion Air-owned planes clipped wings on the tarmac at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport. Investigators concluded that a rushed departure caused the incident. In April, a Lion Air plane overran the runway at Gorontalo Airport on the island of Sulawesi. Source:
- 2017 – A Lion Air Boeing plane clipped wings with a Wings Air plane during a botched landing at a Sumatran airport.
- 2016 – In May, two Lion Air planes collided at Soekarno-Hatta airport. In April, a flight operated by a Lion Air subsidiary clipped a TransNusa plane.
- 2013 – A Lion Air plane crashed in Bali during a botched landing attempt by an inexperienced pilot who underestimated the runway. The aircraft, which was carrying 108 passengers, split into two pieces. Several people sustained injuries in the crash.
- 2012 – Other runway miscalculations resulted in damage to Lion Airplanes.
- 2011-2012 – In separate incidents, four Lion Air pilots were arrested for possession of drugs, including ecstasy and crystal meth.
- 2004 – The pilot of Lion Air Flight JT 538 overran the runway at Adisumarmo International Airport in Central Java, resulting in a fatal crash that killed 25 people. Investigators determined that pilot error caused the Lion Air Flight 538 crash.
Victims of Indonesian Plane Crash
Indonesia’s Finance Ministry confirmed that at least 20 officials were aboard Lion Air Flight JT 610. A spokesperson for the ministry said the men were in Jakarta spending the weekend with their families before returning to their posts in Pangkal Pinang.
According to the flight manifest, the plane was carrying 178 adult passengers, one child, and two babies in addition to the two pilots and six crew members.
Lion Air officials identified the crew as Shintia Melina, Citra Noivita Anggelia, Alviani Hidayatul Solikha, Damayanti Simarmata, Mery Yulianda, and Deny Maula. One of the crew was a technician and three were flight attendants in training, per the airline.
The Justice Department has criminally charged Boeing with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Boeing will pay more than $2.5 billion for conspiracy to defraud the FAA in connection with the agency’s evaluation of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane.
The $2.5 billion is composed of a criminal monetary penalty of $243.6 million, compensation payments to Boeing’s 737 MAX airline customers of $1.77 billion, and a $500 million beneficiaries fund to compensate the heirs, relatives, and legal beneficiaries of the hundreds of passengers who died in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610 crashes.
The U.S. FAA gave Boeing clearance to return the 737 MAX to flight. The announcement came over a year and a half after worldwide grounding of the aircraft.
American Airlines will fly the 737 MAX in late December and early January 2021. United Airlines and Southwest Airlines plan to reintroduce the aircraft in the first and second quarters of 2021 respectively.
A report from the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure blamed the FAA and Boeing for “repeated and serious failures." According to the scathing report, the crashes of ET 302 and Lion Air 610 were “a horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA.”
"What’s particularly infuriating is how Boeing and FAA both gambled with public safety in the critical time period between the two crashes,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, (D-OR), the committee chairman. The report alleges that Boeing’s extensive efforts to cut costs jeopardized safety and withheld “crucial information” from the FAA.
FAA head Steve Dickson acknowledged that his agency and Boeing made mistakes in the development of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Dickson testified before the Senate Commerce Committee that the “manufacturer made mistakes and the FAA made mistakes in its oversight.”
Ethiopian officials from the country’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau say a defective flight control system triggered by faulty sensor data is at least partly to blame for the ET-302 crash. Officials also said the training provided by Boeing for its MAX aircraft "was found to be inadequate.” According to a report, the flight control system, known as MCAS, was activated four times as the pilots fought to regain control of the plane.
Boeing confirmed in a statement that the troubled Boeing 737 MAX would remain grounded worldwide until June or July of 2020 at the earliest. The announcement came weeks after Boeing forced out its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg. David Calhoun, a Boeing board member and former executive at General Electric, replaced Muilenburg.
Boeing announced today that it will stop production on the 737 MAX model in January. The company currently produces around 40 MAX planes each month and has approximately 400 completed aircraft in storage that will be delivered. The company stated it would “prioritize the delivery of stored aircraft and temporarily suspend production on the 737 program.”
The U.S. FAA has not said when the 737 MAX will be cleared to fly. The agency must first approve changes to the aircraft and determine updated flight crew training procedures. Boeing said it hopes to get its planes back in the air by the end of 2019, but the FAA recently said the company’s timeline was not realistic.
Baum Hedlund aviation attorneys are pursuing legal action on behalf of Lion Air Flight 610 families who were pressured into signing an unlawful release and discharge forms designed to strip away their legal rights.
A few days after the tragic Lion Air crash, when victims’ families were still mourning, they were told that they could receive a payment of roughly 1.3 billion rupiah (equivalent to $91,600 USD) if they signed a form.
But 1.3 billion rupiah is the bare minimum the families were entitled to receive. Worse, the form they were required to sign to secure the funds imposed “complicated and shocking” conditions that stripped away their legal rights, according to the New York Times.
An off-duty pilot, sitting in the cockpit jump seat of the Lion Air plane that crashed in Oct. 2018, saved the plane a day earlier from a similar crash. According to reports from the Indonesian investigation, on the day before the plane tragically crashed, the Boeing MAX 8 aircraft faced an identical malfunction. As the crew attempted to solve the problem, the extra pilot diagnosed the issue and prevented the plane from crashing. Among the actions the jump seat pilot told the flight crew to take was to cut the power to the motor in the trim system. That stopped MCAS from pushing the plane’s nose down. The pilot operating handbook, which should contain all emergency procedures, does not have information about how to correct for the emergency created by a malfunctioning MCAS system.
A report from the Indonesia safety committee said the plane did not undergo proper repairs following multiple issues on previous flights. The crew on the flight that almost crashed, however, requested maintenance on the plane but did not report that they received a stall warning once they hit 400 feet after takeoff. It is not known whether maintenance issues could have contributed to the cause of the crash.
Investigators said the Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane that crashed had experienced a “technical problem” with its airspeed indicator during its final four flights.
The latest development was announced after an emotionally charged press conference on the Lion Air crash investigation. Relatives of the victims confronted Indonesian transportation officials and Lion Air’s co-founder, demanding answers as to why the plane had been cleared for flight.
The budget airline reportedly knew that the plane had malfunctioned on a flight the night before the fatal crash. Based on flight data from the crash, investigators were able to identify two earlier flights that experienced the same technical problem with the airspeed indicator.
Investigators Download Hours of Flight Data from Ill-Fated Lion Air Plane | Nov. 4, 2018
Officials from Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee held a press conference today announcing that nearly 70 hours of flight data was downloaded from one of the black boxes of Lion Air Flight JT 610.
The flight data recorder was recovered on Nov. 1 in damaged condition and required careful handling to download information. The cockpit voice recorder is still missing, though searchers narrowed their focus based on a weak locator signal.
Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency chief Muhammad Syaugi updated the media on the search operation, which is now in its seventh day. Syaugi said the search, which involves hundreds of personnel and dozens of ships, will continue for another three days.
According to Syaugi, more than 100 body bags of human remains have been recovered in the search operation. He noted that the number would increase as remains are now washing up on shorelines.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Transportation found faults with two Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes in Lion Air’s fleet. The ministry ordered inspections on all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by Indonesian air carriers following the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 on Oct. 29.
After inspecting more than half a dozen Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in the country, officials found a cockpit display problem in one plane and a jet stabilizer system glitch in another. Both problems will require new components.
Divers found the black box containing the plane’s flight data recorder, according to initial reports. The diver who found the black box said the device was underneath debris at the bottom of the Java Sea.
The other black box containing the audio recorder from the cockpit remains missing.
Search officials are continuing to look for the many victims still missing. Yesterday, family members held a funeral for the first identified victim, a 24-year-old woman who worked at the engineering ministry.
In the moments before Lion Air Flight JT 610 crashed off the coast of Jakarta, the plane maneuvered with erratic airspeed, altitude, and direction, leading some aviation experts to speculate whether a problem with the aircraft’s pitot-static system played a role in the disaster.
The pitot-static system is a series of instruments used to calculate airspeed and altitude. Pitot tubes have been implicated in other air tragedies, including the 2009 Air France Flight 447 crash in the Atlantic Ocean. Earlier this year, a Malaysia Airlines flight departed from Brisbane, Australia with covers still affixed to the pitot tubes, resulting in improper readings. The airliner was able to safely return to the airport.
Experts caution that it is still far too early to know what caused the Lion Air crash. The crash investigation will likely take a year or more to complete.
Passengers who flew on the Lion Air plane the day before it crashed described numerous issues that occurred during their flight to the news media. According to Indonesian TV presenter, Conchita Caroline, a technical problem with the Boeing 737 MAX plane caused it to be towed into a parking space on Sunday, the day before the fatal Lion Air crash.
According to Caroline, passengers listened to an “unusual” sound coming from the plane’s engine as it sat on the tarmac. Passengers became anxious sitting in the cabin without any air conditioning. Some children vomited due to the rising heat. Only when passenger anger reached a fever pitch did the staff let them disembark the plane.
Passengers also recalled when the plane dipped suddenly. “About three to eight minutes after it took off, I felt like the plane was losing power and unable to rise. That happened several times during the flight,” said passenger Alon Soetanto. “We felt like in a roller coaster. Some passengers began to panic and vomit.”
Soetanto’s account is consistent with flight tracking data, which showed the plane erratically changing speed, direction, and altitude shortly after takeoff, similar to the maneuvering of the doomed Lion Air Flight.
The Indonesian government announced today that all Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in service in the country will need to be inspected following the Lion Air crash. The government stopped short of grounding the planes, however.
Lion Air has 11 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in its fleet. Garuda Indonesia, another national carrier, has one. An Indonesia Transportation Ministry official noted that the Garuda plane has already been inspected, but the official did not specify whether the aircraft passed the inspection.
The Australian government is urging its employees to avoid flying Lion Air after the crash of Flight JT 610.
“Following the fatal crash of a Lion Air plane on 29 October 2018, Australian government officials and contractors have been instructed not to fly on Lion Air. This decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear,” read a statement on the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website.