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Investigators Release Scathing Report Faulting Boeing And Lion Air For Deadly Crash


In almost every airplane accident, it's not just one thing that goes wrong. It's often a series of mistakes cascading into bigger problems. That is what investigators in Indonesia concluded happened in the crash of a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max. NPR's Russell Lewis has more on the new report.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Last year's Lion Air crash was the first for Boeing's new 737 Max jet. Not long after takeoff from Jakarta, the flight crew wrestled with the plane as it pitched down uncontrollably and plunged into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people. Today in Jakarta, investigators released their long-awaited report.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Indonesian).

LEWIS: At a news conference, they faulted the airline for questionable maintenance, but they were scathing in their criticisms of Boeing, blaming the design and certification of the 737 Max. They zeroed in on a new flight control feature called MCAS, a feature that wasn't even in the aircraft manual. On this scratchy recording from the briefing, Indonesian investigative chairman Nurcahyo Utomo said pilots were completely in the dark.


NURCAHYO UTOMO: Pilot was not aware to the MCAS system. And they could not identify what happened on the flight.

LEWIS: Five months after the Lion Air crash, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max went down under similar circumstances, killing all 157 aboard. After that incident, the plane was removed from commercial service worldwide. In a statement today, Boeing said it's addressing the Indonesian recommendations to enhance the safety of the max, which, among other things, had a single point of failure on a key cockpit instrument that doomed both jets.

Shem Malmquist teaches advanced aircraft operations at Florida Institute of Technology.

SHEM MALMQUIST: So I think we really need to consider ways to simplify the entire process, not just for the design, but also for the humans that are in the system, like the pilots in this case, so they have better feedback and they know what to expect.

LEWIS: For Boeing, the bad news comes almost daily. This week it reported its quarterly profit dropped by 50%. And Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg will testify before Congress next week, the first company official to do so since the crisis began. For months now, Boeing has promised an updated software package to fix this plane. But company engineers and federal regulators keep finding additional problems, further slowing the 737 Max's return to service.

Russell Lewis, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZAC'S "ARPPYREI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.