Lion Air investigators confirm presence of third pilot

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March 22, 2019
Lion Air recorder
Searchers sort through debris from the Lion Air crash. Photo: Seven News

Indonesian investigators have confirmed the presence of a third, off-duty pilot who reportedly saved a troubled Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX the day before it crashed.

Bloomberg reported that the off-duty pilot was in the jump seat in the aircraft’s cockpit when it developed problems and suggested to the flight crew that they turn off the trim stabilizer system as they struggled to control the plane.

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The plane would develop similar problems the next day shortly after taking off from Jakarta and would crash into the sea with 189 people on board as the pilots apparently struggled to work out what was happening.

A preliminary report on the crash did not mention the third pilot despite giving a detailed description of the flight on the day before the crash.  Officials said he had been interviewed but did not reveal details.

“The third pilot, who has not been identified, was qualified to fly Max 8s and was deadheading aboard the Oct. 28 flight from Bali’s Denpasar airport to Jakarta,” The Washington Post quoted  Soerjanto Tjahjono, the head of Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, as saying. “The aircraft encountered the same problems that appear to have caused it to crash a day later.”

Tjahjono said that data from the cockpit voice recorder did not match media reports detailing how the pilots and co-pilot struggled to regain control of the aircraft prior to its crash on October 29.

Quoting three sources, Reuters reported Thursday that the pilots of doomed Lion Air Flight 610  scoured a  handbook as they struggled to understand why the jet was lurching downwards.

The sources said the first officer said “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Greatest” just prior to the hitting the water.

Denying the leaks came from the NTSC, Tjahjono said Indonesia investigators kept tight control on access to the data from the flight and it was stored on a stand-alone server not connected to the Internet.

“The contents of the reports were just opinions that someone or some people made to look as if they came from the CVR,” he said.

However, the official in charge of the crash, Nucahyo Utomo, confirmed there was panic in the cockpit prior to the crash.

Indonesian investigators have visited Boeing to carry out a reconstruction of the next-to-last flight and Tjahjono said the agency would publish its findings in August or September.