Some distraught relatives of passengers and crew killed in last week’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia demanded on Monday that the airline be held responsible for the disaster.
During a meeting at a hotel in Jakarta, officials from the national search and rescue agency, the transport ministry, the police and crash investigators briefed about 100 relatives of victims on the ongoing operation and probe into the Oct. 29 crash off the West Java coast.
Hours after Monday’s meeting, investigators told reporters that the Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 had problems with its airspeed indicator on its last four flights, including the day it crashed, presumably killing all 189 people on board.
But at least one of the relatives berated Lion Air and its co-founder, Rusdi Kirana, who was at the hotel meeting but did not address the relatives publicly or respond to reporters’ questions.
A man whose son, Johan Ramadhan, was among the passengers thanked those involved in the search and rescue mission, but slammed the airline’s officials.
“I don’t want to incite trouble, but I think Rusdi Kirana has failed!” said Johan’s father, Najib Furqoini, his voice mixed with anger and grief.
Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi moderated the meeting while Rusdi stood next to him. Rusdi bowed his head after angry family members demanded that he identify himself. He immediately left after the meeting.
“I was never contacted by Lion Air. I lost my son, but Lion Air has not expressed any sympathy at all, never mind calling,” Najib added, as other families nodded in agreement.
Rusdi, who founded the airline with his brother in 1999, is now Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia. He is a deputy chairman of the National Awakening Party, a member of the ruling coalition.
Muhammad Bambang Sukandar, whose 29-year-old son Pradana was also on the plane, reeled off a litany of complaints against the airline, which is notorious for frequent delays.
He questioned why the aircraft was cleared to fly despite having experienced technical problems during its previous flight the night before.
“They said it had been repaired but was it really all clear? Lion Air must take full responsibility,” he said.
Airspeed indicator malfunctioned: authorities
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) said later in the day that the new aircraft, which crashed into the Java Sea minutes after take-off from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, had problems with its airspeed indicator.
“It had the problems on its four consecutive flights,” one of the investigators, Nurcahyo Utomo, told a news conference.
“We’re trying to find out whether it was the indicator, the measuring instrument or the computer system that was broken, or if any component was removed or replaced,” he said.
Last week, Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait confirmed an aviation website’s report that the 737, which crashed on Oct. 29, had logged “unreliable” altitude and airspeed readings on a flight from Bali to Jakarta that immediately preceded the doomed flight from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang, in Kepaluaun Bangka-Belitung province.
“Yes, that was on the previous flight. But the problems were resolved that night,” Sirait told BenarNews last week.
KNKT chairman Soerjanto Tjahjono said the aircraft hit the sea at a rapid speed and disintegrated on impact.
“The engines hit the water at a high RPM (revolutions per minute), so there was no problem with the engines,” he told reporters.
Search teams have recovered the aircraft’s two turbines and the broken landing gear, as well as other smaller debris.
Soerjanto said KNKT would release a preliminary report on the crash in a month.
He said KNKT, assisted by investigators from Boeing and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), had downloaded 69 hours of data spanning 19 flights from the aircraft’s flight data recorder, which was recovered from the sea a few days ago.
The flight data recorder contains information such as airspeed, pressure altitude and vertical acceleration.
Soerjanto expressed hope that the voice cockpit recorder (CVR), which records conversations between the pilots, would soon be found.
“Data from the CVR is very important to establish the cause of the accident,” he said.
Earlier, search officials said they had detected a “ping” from the CVR’s underwater locator beacon, but the signal was fading.
Muhammad Syaugi, the National Search and Rescue Agency chief, said he suspected the CVR was buried under thick mud.
Syaugi said 164 bags of body parts had been recovered so far.
Police have only been able to identify 27 victims to date, Cahyo Putut Widodo, the head of the DNA lab at the national police’s health department, told local news channel TVOne.
Meanwhile, a volunteer diver taking part in the search operation died on Friday, authorities said.
Syahrul Anto was found in the sea unconscious and was declared dead in hospital, Bayu Wardoyo, the head of the Indonesian Rescue Diver Team, told BenarNews over the weekend.
Bayu said Anto was a senior diver who also took part in the search for the wreckage of an AirAsia plane that crashed into the Java Sea in December 2014. All 162 people on board were killed in that crash.
Syahrul might have had decompression sickness, a navy officer told local television.
Last week’s crash was the second deadly accident in 14 years involving a plane from budget carrier Lion Air.
In 2004, an MD-82 from its fleet overshot the runway of the airport in Solo, Central Java. It crashed into a cemetery, killing 25 people.
Nine years later, a Lion Air Boeing 737 carrying more than 100 people crashed into the sea while trying to land on Bali island, nearly splitting the fuselage into two. There were no fatalities.