JAKARTA: The Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX jet that crashed in Indonesia, flew erratically during a flight the previous evening when it experienced a “technical problem”, according to data from flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
After taking off from Denpasar on the holiday island of Bali on Sunday evening, the jet reported unusual variations in altitude and airspeed in the first several minutes of flight – including an 266.7m drop over 27 seconds when it would normally be ascending – before stabilising and flying on to Jakarta.
However, the pilots kept the plane at a maximum altitude of 8,500m compared with 11,000m on the same route earlier in the week.
Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait told reporters on Monday a technical problem occurred on the Denpasar-Jakarta flight but it was resolved “according to procedure”.
Two passengers on the plane’s previous flight from Bali to Jakarta on Sunday have described issues that caused frustration and alarm.
Alon Soetanto told TVOne the plane dropped suddenly several times in the first few minutes.
“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,” he said.
“We felt like in a roller coaster. Some passengers began to panic and vomit.”
His account is consistent with data from flight-tracking sites that show erratic speed, altitude and direction in the minutes after the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet took off.
A similar pattern was also seen in data pinged from Monday’s fatal flight.
Safety experts cautioned, however, that the data must be checked for accuracy against the plane’s so-called black boxes, which officials are confident will be recovered.
In a detailed post online, Indonesian TV presenter Conchita Caroline said boarding of Sunday’s flight was delayed by more than an hour and when the plane was being towed, a technical problem forced it to return to its parking space.
She said passengers sat in the cabin without air conditioning for at least 30 minutes listening to an “unusual” engine roar, while some children vomited from the overbearing heat, until staff faced with rising anger let them disembark.
After about 30 minutes of passengers waiting on the tarmac, they were told to board again while an engine was checked.
Caroline said she queried a staff member but was met with a defensive response.
“He just showed me the flight permit that he had signed and he said the problem had been settled,” she said.
Distraught family members struggled to comprehend the sudden loss of loved ones in the crash of a plane with experienced pilots in fine weather.
“This is a very difficult time for our family,” said Leo Sihombing, outside a crisis centre set up for family members at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport.
“We know that it is very unlikely that my cousin is still alive, but no one can provide any certainty or explanation,” he said as other family members wept and hugged each other. — AP/Reuters