Lion Air: Why did a brand-new Boeing jet crash 13 minutes after takeoff?

Updated 5:24 AM EDT, Wed October 31, 2018
Rescue team members arrange the wreckage, showing part of the logo of Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea, at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
STRINGER/REUTERS
Rescue team members arrange the wreckage, showing part of the logo of Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea, at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Now playing
02:15
Inspections ordered amid search for plane
Fox News/Twitter
Now playing
01:33
ADL wants Fox News to fire Tucker Carlson over racist comments
CNN
Now playing
02:36
The truth behind Covid-19 vaccines for sale on the dark web
Now playing
04:22
Levi's CEO has message for Mitch McConnell
Now playing
01:54
'You think I'm racist': Former Fox News host storms off camera
Korie Robertson and Willie Robertson of the reality series "Duck Dynasty" attend the Capitol File 58th Presidential Inauguration Reception at Fiola Mare on January 19, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Paul Morigi/Getty Images
Korie Robertson and Willie Robertson of the reality series "Duck Dynasty" attend the Capitol File 58th Presidential Inauguration Reception at Fiola Mare on January 19, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
01:46
'Duck Dynasty' stars discuss raising biracial son on new show
FOX/"The Masked Singer"
Now playing
01:24
Nick Cannon makes big splash in 'Masked Singer' return
The Drew Barrymore Show/YouTube
Now playing
01:26
'Mom' star speaks out about not having kids in real life
Heinz ketchup packets are shown in New York on Monday, August 22, 2005. H.J. Heinz Co., the world's biggest ketchup maker, said first-quarter profit fell 19 percent on expenses to cut jobs and sell businesses.  (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Heinz ketchup packets are shown in New York on Monday, August 22, 2005. H.J. Heinz Co., the world's biggest ketchup maker, said first-quarter profit fell 19 percent on expenses to cut jobs and sell businesses. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:53
Restaurants face a nationwide ketchup packet shortage
Camerota Berman both
CNN
Camerota Berman both
Now playing
02:33
CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota gets surprise tribute from co-anchor
Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons delivers remarks on the US economy at the New York State Bar Association meetings in New York, January 28, 2009. Troubled US banking giant Citigroup last week named Parsons as its new chairman, the longtime top executive at media giant Time Warner, to steer it through its most challenging period.  AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons delivers remarks on the US economy at the New York State Bar Association meetings in New York, January 28, 2009. Troubled US banking giant Citigroup last week named Parsons as its new chairman, the longtime top executive at media giant Time Warner, to steer it through its most challenging period. AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:47
Dick Parsons: Georgia law is a bald-faced attempt to suppress Black vote
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
Now playing
02:54
'Godzilla vs. Kong' is a pandemic box office hit
Now playing
01:30
5 ways to cut your plastic waste
CNN/Getty Images
Now playing
04:40
Stelter: After elevating Gaetz, Fox News barely covering scandal
NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
Now playing
01:08
See NASA spacecraft successfully land on an asteroid
Now playing
06:51
Alisyn Camerota's kids wish her good luck in new role on CNN
(CNN) —  

The plane behind Lion Air’s crash off Indonesia was one of Boeing’s newest and most advanced jets. It was just two months old and with 800 hours under its belt, so experts are baffled as to what exactly caused the 737 MAX 8 to crash.

While no information has been released yet as to why the brand-new plane crashed into the sea 13 minutes after takeoff, FlightRadar24 has published data that shows the plane behaving erratically during takeoff. When a plane would normally be ascending in the first few minutes of flight, the Lion Air jet experienced a 726-foot drop over 21 seconds.

Aviation expert Philip Butterworth-Hayes told CNN that the data was unusual – especially since takeoffs like this are typically controlled by the plane’s automatic systems.

“This doesn’t fit an automatic flight profile,” Butterworth-Hayes said while studying the data. “Unless, the aircraft was trying to correct itself at the time for a number of reasons.”

“This shows an unusually unstable vertical flight profile,” he added.

“Exactly at the same time as the speed increased there was an altitude dip, which meant that at that point there was quite some loss of control.”

The plane, which has only been in operation since August 15, was carrying 181 passengers as well as six cabin crew members and two pilots, bound for Pangkal Pinang on the Indonesian island of Bangka.

Former US National Transportation Safety Board air crash investigator and CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz told CNN the data clearly showed issues with both the speed and altitude of the plane.

“There is something obviously wrong in both the air speed and the altitude which would point to the flight control systems,” he said. “These are fly-by-wire systems – highly automated – and pilots may not be able to troubleshoot failures in a timely manner.”

Soldiers push an inflatable raft as they carry debris from the Lion Air flight JT610 airplane that crashed into the sea.
Antara Foto/Reuters
Soldiers push an inflatable raft as they carry debris from the Lion Air flight JT610 airplane that crashed into the sea.

’Airplanes don’t just fall out of the sky’

Butterworth-Hayes said that given that the plane was only two months old, the reason behind the crash was “very unlikely” to be a mechanical fault.

“Airplanes don’t just fall out of the sky,” he said. “I can’t think of any mechanical issue apart from a sudden, unexplained loss of engine power (or) complete electrical failure. It’s far more likely to be an external event.”

He suggests that an environmental issue is to blame – such as a microburst, or the plane hitting something like a flock of birds.

“Microbursts are very difficult to detect – they’re a sudden down-rush of wind, like a vortex and you can’t really see it – you hit it, suddenly your aircraft isn’t performing how it should do, you start doing all sorts of recovery motions and then it’s too late.”

The new Boeing 737 MAX 8 made a request to air traffic control to return to the airport around 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles) after takeoff, but did not indicate there was any emergency.

Radar data did not show that the plane had turned back, and air traffic controllers lost contact with it soon after, Yohanes Sirait, spokesman for AirNav Indonesia, the agency that oversees air traffic navigation, told CNN.

Butterworth-Hayes said that the fact that the pilots had not indicated there was any problems on board suggests there was a minor incident they were dealing with that they were in control of.

“Their call suggests it was a minor incident which they were in control of and they didn’t require assistance,” he said. “But that rapidly escalated.”

“There was an altitude loss (before the flight crashed) and just after that there was obviously some sort of correction,” Butterworth-Hayes said while looking at the FlightRadar24 data.

“Whatever happens to that dip is a correction but whatever that correction was wasn’t very long and that’s when the plane started falling.”

What we know

  • - The plane went down at around 6:30 a.m. Monday, en route from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang
  • - Indonesian authorities believe all 189 people on board were killed
  • - The so-called black box flight recorder has yet to be found
  • - Flight crew reported an issue with the plane the night before the flight, and repairs were carried out

Speaking earlier with CNN, David Soucie – a former safety inspector with the US Federal Aviation Administration – said the fact that an emergency wasn’t declared should be a cause for concern.

“What’s most peculiar to me is the fact that they didn’t declare an emergency. They just simply said, ‘We’re going back,’” said Soucie, a CNN safety analyst.

“But when I look at the track of the aircraft after that, the aircraft made a very steep dive after that, which is not typical of what they would’ve done,” he added. “They would have maintained altitude and made that turn and come back to (the airport).”

Soucie added that something had to have happened for the aircraft to lose control.

He ruled out weather as a cause of the crash, however, since the plane did not appear to attempt to turn back toward Jakarta. “That says that something abrupt and very fast happened to the aircraft.”

Are pitot tubes to blame?

Pilots on board the plane’s previous flight from Denpasar to Jakarta reported technical problems and that the plane was displaying “unreliable airspeed,” the deputy chief of Indonesia’s National Transport Safety Committee, Haryo Satmiko, told reporters, including Reuters, during a news conference on Monday.

Engineers had checked and repaired the issue, Lion Air Chief Executive Edward Sirait told local media, and that they gave the plane clearance to fly.