Off-Duty Pilot Stopped Potential Boeing 737 MAX Disaster One Day Before Deadly Crash: Report
One day before a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea off Jakarta, Indonesia, back in October, killing 189 people, an off-duty pilot flying in the cockpit of that same model of plane on the same airline helped its passengers and crew avoid a similar fate.
According to a report from Bloomberg, the unnamed pilot jumped to the aid of crew members as the Lion Air plane — flying from Bali to Jakarta — experienced difficulties, disabling a malfunctioning flight-control system that is thought to have have caused the fatal crash in Indonesia, and more recently, in Ethiopia, in February.
Sources familiar with the incident told Bloomberg that the off-duty pilot instructed the crew to cut the power to the motor in the failing trim system, which was causing the plane’s nose to repeatedly tilt down. The move is part of a checklist all pilots are required to memorize, the outlet said.
Crew-members on the doomed Lion Air Flight 610 reportedly didn’t know how to respond to the same malfunction when it occurred the next day. Three sources familiar with that plane’s cockpit voice recorder recovered as part of the investigation told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that in the minutes before the crash, the crew was heard checking their quick reference handbook for how to handle the emergency situation.
A Lion Air spokesperson did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on either Bloomberg or Reuters’ reports, but Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) continues to investigate the Lion Air crash.
Indonesian authorities, who discovered Flight 610’s cockpit voice recorder in the Java Sea back in January, have said it could take up to a full year to publish the complete crash report.
Investigators are also still looking into the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight operating the Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed shortly after takeoff earlier this month, killing all 157 passengers on board.
Countries around the world have grounded the controversial Boeing jet, including the United States, the European Union, Australia, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.
The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Daniel Elwell, announced last week that their investigations had found a potential link between the two deadly crashes. “We are much closer to that possibility and that’s why we grounded the airplanes,” he said on the Today show “We got new information yesterday and we acted on it. It is in our minds now, a link that is close enough to ground the airplanes.”
Numerous airlines, including U.S. carriers like American and Southwest, use the 737 MAX 8 for their flights, but have temporarily grounded them following the order. According to the FAA, there are currently 74 MAX 8 and MAX 9 planes that were in operation in the U.S. and 387 worldwide.
President Trump has weighed in on the situation, saying he feels planes are now “too complex to fly.”
“Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” he wrote in a tweet. “I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better.”
Boeing had stood behind the plane it created for several days following the Ethiopian crash, writing in a statement, “we have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX.” They have since complied with the FAA’s grounding of the fleet.
According to Boeing’s website, the 210-seat MAX 8, which debuted in 2017 and was first flown by Southwest in the U.S., was designed to be a more comfortable, reliable and fuel efficient way to travel. It’s also the fastest selling plane in the company’s history, accumulating 4,700 orders worldwide to date.