Low-cost carrier Lion Air – whose new Boeing 737 crashed into the Java Sea on Monday, killing all 189 on board – has a history of serious safety incidents in its two-decade history.
The Indonesian airline began operating in 2000 and was banned from flying to European Union countries from 2007-2016.
Its first deadly incident was in 2004, when 25 people died and more than 100 were injured after a plane skidded at an airport in Solo, in central Java.
Lion blamed bad weather and strong tailwinds after the plane overshot the runway and crashed into a cemetery.
In 2013, there was caught up in more controversy when a Lion Air pilot undershot a runway and brought a plane down in the ocean off Denpasar. The plane split in two and passengers had to swim to safety – remarkably, no one died.
In May 2016, two Lion Air planes collided at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport – from where the ill-fated flight JT610 took off on Monday.
A month later, a plane operated by Batik Air, part of the Lion Group, clipped a TransNusa plane.
In 2017, a Boeing belonging to Lion collided with a Wings Air plane as it landed at Kualanamu airport in Sumatra. No one was injured.
Monday’s tragedy is Indonesia’s second-worst plane disaster.
The most deadly was in 1997, when 234 people died after a Garuda Airbus crashed in a wooded ravine in North Sumatra.
Lion Air erratic speed revealed
Indonesian officials have said flight JT610 made erratic altitude changes in its brief time in the the sky before it crashed into the sea on Monday.
Lion Air president-director Edward Sirait said the plane, which was delivered only in August, had reported a “technical problem” on its previous flight from Bali to Jakarta. That had apparently been fully remedied.
About three minutes after the Boeing 737 Max 8 took off for its one-hour flight to Pangkal Pinang, pilot Bhavye Suneja asked air traffic control for permission to return to Jakarta.
Ten minutes later, the plane crashed into the sea.
Aviation Safety Network reports the aircraft took off from Soekarno-Hatta Airport at 6.21am on Monday.
“ADS-B data of the flight, captured by Flightradar24 and FlightAware, show erratic values,” it said on its website.
“The aircraft made a climbing left-hand turn after takeoff. Shortly after passing the ADS-B reported altitude of 2100 feet, data points briefly show a lower altitude of around 1475 feet.
“Altitude data sent via ADS-B continue to show an erratic pattern, varying roughly between 4500 and 5350 feet. The values then rapidly decline until contact is lost at 6.32 hours.”
Search for survivors
At least six bodies were recovered from the Java Sea, off the coast of Jakarta, on Tuesday as the search continued for the main body of the downed Lion Air plane.
More than 300 people, including soldiers, police and fishermen, are involved in the search. They have retrieved aircraft debris and personal items, including a crumpled mobile phone, ID cards and carry-on bags, from the sea.
Meanwhile, distraught family members are struggling to comprehend the sudden loss of loved ones after the crash, which took place without warning in fine weather with experienced pilots at the controls.
‘Passed safety audit’
Perth aviation expert and editor of airlineratings.com Geoffrey Thomas said airlines such as Lion Air and Indonesia Air Asia did not participate in or pass the 2014 International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit (IOSA).
“Subsequently, they have both done that audit and passed it, and Indonesia has passed the International Civil Aviation Organisation country audit,” Mr Thomas told The New Daily.
“Indonesia has moved on dramatically since 2014 and has made great strides. Lion Air is a very big airline with 300 fleet, and while we are yet to find out the cause of the crash, it appears that there was an issue with pilot tube and static port, which feeds data relating to speed and altitude into the pilot’s flight instruments and computers.”