U.S. recovers remains from Afghanistan plane crash, verifying identities: official

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Idrees Ali

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday recovered the remains of individuals from a U.S. military aircraft that crashed in Afghanistan and was in the process of confirming their identities, a U.S. defense official said on Tuesday.

On Monday, the U.S. military said an E-11A aircraft crashed in the province of Ghazni but disputed Taliban claims to have brought it down.

Earlier on Tuesday, Afghan forces and Taliban fighters clashed in a central region where the U.S. military aircraft crashed as the government tried to reach the wreckage site in a Taliban stronghold.

The U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said multiple attempts had been made to recover the remains but had been hampered because of the terrain and weather.

The Pentagon declined to comment.

Security forces were sent to the site immediately after receiving a report of the crash in the Deh Yak district, but were ambushed by Taliban fighters, Ghazni provincial police chief Khalid Wardak told Reuters.

“As per our information, there are four bodies and two onboard were alive and they are missing,” Wardak said, adding that the forces subsequently received an order to retreat and airborne action is to be taken instead.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Afghan forces backed by U.S. military support had tried to capture the area around the crashed aircraft and clashed with fighters of the Islamist militant group.

The attempt was repelled, however, he told Reuters, but added that the Taliban would allow a rescue team access to recover bodies from the crash site.

“Taliban fighters on the ground counted six bodies at the site of the U.S. airplane crash,” he said, adding that while there could have been more, the militant group could not be certain, as fire had reduced everything to ashes.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said the plane was carrying fewer than five people when it crashed, with one official saying initial information showed there were at least two.

The crashed aircraft, built by Bombardier Inc, is used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.

The crash came as the Taliban and United States have been in talks on ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Trump has long called for an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which began with an American invasion triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that al Qaeda launched from then-Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

(Additional reporting by Rumpam Jain; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. military plane crashes in Afghanistan, Taliban claims responsibility

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Idrees Ali

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A plane which U.S. officials described as a small U.S. military aircraft crashed in a Taliban-controlled area of central Afghanistan on Monday, and the insurgent group claimed to have brought it down.

The U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there were no indications so far that the plane had been brought down by enemy activity. One of the officials said there were believed to be fewer than 10 people on board.

Pictures and a video on social media purportedly from the crash site showed what could be the remains of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft.

Senior Afghan officials told Reuters the authorities had rushed local personnel to locate and identify the wreckage, in a mountainous area partly controlled by the Taliban. Reuters journalists filmed Afghan soldiers heading toward the snow-covered mountains where the plane crashed in Ghazni province.

“The plane which was on an intelligence mission, was brought down in Sado Khel area of Deh Yak district of Ghazni province,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban in a statement.

Mujahid did not say how fighters had brought the plane down. He said the crew on board included high ranking U.S. officers. A senior defense official denied that senior American officers were involved.

The Taliban control large parts of Ghazni province. The militant group, which has been waging a war against U.S.- led forces since 2001, often exaggerates enemy casualty figures.

Civilian airline Ariana Afghan Airlines denied initial reports that it was the owner of the plane.

“It does not belong to Ariana because the two flights managed by Ariana today, from Herat to Kabul and Herat to Delhi, are safe,” its acting CEO, Mirwais Mirzakwal, told Reuters.

Two officials from Ghazni province said the crashed aircraft appeared to belong to a foreign company.

“There is no exact information on casualties and the name of the airline,” Ghazni provincial governor Wahidullah Kaleemzai told private broadcast

Investigators to identify MH17 suspects: Dutch broadcasters

FILE PHOTO: A Malaysian air crash investigator inspects the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Investigators will next week announce criminal proceedings against suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 five years ago, allegedly by pro-Russian separatists, two leading Dutch broadcasters reported on Friday.

MH17 was shot out of the sky over territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine as it flew from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.

About two-thirds of the passengers were Dutch.

Dutch prosecutors said on Friday a multi-national investigation team would present its latest findings to media and families on June 19. A spokesman for the national Dutch prosecution service declined to specify what would be announced.

Citing anonymous sources, broadcaster RTL reported that the public prosecution service had decided to launch a case against several MH17 suspects.

National public broadcaster NOS also reported that criminal proceedings will be announced against individual suspects.

No suspects were named in the reports.

The Joint Investigation Team, which seeks to try the suspects under Dutch law, has said the missile system came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.

Investigators had said their next step would be to identify individual culprits and to attempt to put them on trial.

Dutch officials have said Russia has refused to cooperate.

Russia is not expected to surrender any potential suspects who may be on its territory and authorities have said individuals could be tried in absentia.

The Joint Investigation Team was formed in 2014 by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine to investigate collaboratively.

The Netherlands and Australia, which lost 38 people, hold Russia legally responsible. Moscow denies all involvement and maintains that it does not support, financially or with equipment, pro-Russian rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Ethiopia crash black boxes probed in France, families mourn

A relative puts soil on her face as she mourns at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

By Richard Lough and Aaron Maasho

PARIS/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Investigators in France took possession of the crashed Ethiopian Airlines jet’s black boxes on Thursday, seeking clues into a disaster that has grounded Boeing’s global 737 MAX fleet and left scores of families mourning and angry.

Sunday’s crash after take-off from Addis Ababa killed 157 people from 35 nations in the second such calamity involving Boeing’s flagship new model in six months.

Candle flames burn during a commemoration ceremony for the victims at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Candle flames burn during a commemoration ceremony for the victims at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Possible links between the accidents have rocked the aviation industry, scared passengers worldwide, and left the world’s biggest planemaker scrambling to prove the safety of a money-spinning model intended to be the standard for decades.

Relatives of the dead stormed out of a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday, decrying a lack of transparency, while others made the painful trip to the crash scene.

“I can’t find you! Where are you?” said one Ethiopian woman, draped in traditional white mourning shawl, as she held a framed portrait of her brother in the charred and debris-strewn field.

Nations around the world, including an initially reluctant United States, have suspended the 371 MAX models in operation, though airlines are largely coping by switching planes.

Another nearly 5,000 MAXs are on order, meaning the financial implications are huge for the industry.

PARIS INVESTIGATION

After an apparent tussle over where the investigation should be held, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders arrived in Paris and were handed over to France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) agency.

A BEA spokesman said he did not know what condition the black boxes were in. “First we will try to read the data,” he said, adding that the first analyses could take between half a day and several days.

Ethiopian Federal policemen stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopian Federal policemen stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The investigation has added urgency since the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday grounded the 737 MAX aircraft citing satellite data and evidence from the scene indicating some similarities and “the possibility of a shared cause” with October’s crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.

Though it maintains the planes are safe, Boeing has supported the FAA move. Its stock has fallen about 11 percent since the crash, wiping nearly $26 billion off its market value.

It is unclear how long the Boeing aircraft will be grounded.

A software fix for the 737 MAX that Boeing has been working on since the Lion Air crash in October in Indonesia will take months to complete, the FAA said on Wednesday.

Deliveries of Boeing’s best-selling jets have been effectively frozen, though production continues.

And in what may presage a raft of claims, Norwegian Air has said it will seek compensation from Boeing for costs and lost revenue after grounding its fleet of 737 MAX. Japan became the latest nation to suspend the 737 MAX planes on Thursday. And airline Garuda Indonesia said there was a possibility it would cancel its 20-strong order of 737 MAXs, depending on what the FAA does.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Under international rules, the Ethiopians are leading the investigation but France’s BEA will conduct black box analysis as an advisor. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will also have an influential role as representatives of the country where the Boeing plane was made.

The choice of the BEA followed what experts say appears to have been a tug-of-war between national agencies, with Germany initially invited to do the analysis.

Ethiopian Airlines criticized a French-backed investigation into a crash in Lebanon in 2010, when an Ethiopian plane crashed into the sea after take-off. It said the investigation was biased against the pilots, who were blamed for the crash.

There is a small pool of countries including Britain, France, the United States, Canada and Australia that are seen as leading investigators. But only France and the United States have the experience gleaned from being present at almost every crash involving an Airbus or Boeing respectively.

Since the Indonesia crash, there has been attention on an automated anti-stall system in the MAX model that dips the plane’s nose down.

The pilot of Flight 302 had reported internal control problems and received permission to return, before the plane came down and burst into a fireball on arid farmland.

Relatives are desperate to know what happened and to receive fragments if not corpses, given the fire and destruction at the site. They were at least able to vent their grief.

“We saw where he died and touched the earth,” said Sultan Al-Mutairi, who came from Riyadh to say goodbye to his brother Saad, who ran a recruitment agency in Kenya.

(Reporting by Richard Lough, Tim Hepher and John Irish in Paris, Duncan Miriri and Aaron Masho in Addis Ababa, David Shepardson in Washington, Omar Mohammed and Maggie Fick in Nairobi; Josephine Mason in London; Junko Fujita in Tokyo; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Ethiopian Airlines flight crashes, killing 157

Members of the search and rescue mission carry dead bodies at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

By Duncan Miriri, Maggie Fick and Aaron Maasho

NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – An Ethiopian Airlines passenger jet bound for Nairobi crashed minutes after take-off on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board and raising questions about the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX 8, a new model that also crashed in Indonesia in October.

Sunday’s flight left Bole airport in Addis Ababa at 8:38 a.m. (0538 GMT), before losing contact with the control tower just a few minutes later at 8:44 a.m.

A relative reacts as he leaves the information centre following the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi, Kenya March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

A relative reacts as he leaves the information centre following the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi, Kenya March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

“There are no survivors,” the airline tweeted alongside a picture of Chief Executive Tewolde GebreMariam holding up a piece of debris inside a large crater at the crash site.

“The pilot mentioned that he had difficulties and that he wanted to return,” Tewolde told a news conference.

Passengers from 33 countries were aboard, said Tewolde.

The dead included Kenyan, Ethiopian, American, Canadian, French, Chinese, Egyptian, Swedish, British, Dutch, Indian, Slovakian, Austrian, Swedish, Russian, Moroccan, Spanish, Polish, and Israeli citizens.

At least four worked for the United Nations, the airline said, and the U.N.’s World Food Program director confirmed his organization had lost staff in the accident.

Weeping relatives begged for information at airports in Nairobi and Addis Ababa.

“We’re just waiting for my mum. We’re just hoping she took a different flight or was delayed. She’s not picking up her phone,” said Wendy Otieno, clutching her phone and weeping.

The aircraft, a 737 MAX 8, is the same model that crashed into the Java Sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta on Oct 29, killing all 189 people on board the Lion Air flight.

The cause of that crash is still under investigation.

People walk at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

People walk at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

A senior U.S. government official said it was too early to tell if there was any direct connection between the two accidents, but that reviewing the issue would be among the top priorities for investigators.

The 737 is the world’s best selling modern passenger aircraft and is seen as one of the industry’s most reliable.

A preliminary report into the October crash focused on airline maintenance and training and technical questions about the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor.

Boeing is working on a software patch on the system, while insisting cockpit procedures were already in place to deal safely with problems the Lion Air crew experienced.

Ethiopian’s new aircraft had no recorded technical problems and the pilot had an “excellent” flying record, Tewolde said.

“We received the airplane on November 15, 2018. It has flown more than 1,200 hours. It had flown from Johannesburg earlier this morning,” he said.

“UNSTABLE SPEED”

Flight ET 302, registration number ET-AVJ, crashed near the town of Bishoftu, 62 km (38 miles) southeast of the capital Addis Ababa, with 149 passengers and eight crew aboard, the airline said.

The flight had unstable vertical speed after take off, the flight tracking website Flightradar24 tweeted.

Data released by the Sweden-based service suggested the aircraft had climbed almost 1,000 feet after taking off from Addis Ababa, a hot and high-altitude airport whose thinner air requires extra effort from an aircraft’s engines.

It dipped about 450 feet before rapidly climbing another 900 feet until the point where satellite tracking data was lost.

The aircraft had shattered into many pieces and was severely burnt, a Reuters reporter at the scene of the crash said. Clothing and personal effects were scattered widely over the field where the plane came down.

There was no immediate indication of what caused the crash and safety experts said it was too early to speculate, adding most accidents are caused by a cocktail of factors.

They said investigators would examine the wreckage and bodies for any signs of burns or unusual forces and study the shape and size of the wreckage field. An urgent priority will be to find the two crash-protected cockpit recorders – one for data and the other for pilots’ voice recordings.

Boeing said it was sending a technical team to help with the Ethiopian-led investigation.

ANGUISHED RELATIVES

At Nairobi airport, many relatives were left waiting at the gate for hours, with no information from airport authorities. Some learned of the crash from journalists.

Robert Mutanda, 46, was waiting for his brother-in-law, a Canadian citizen.

“No, we haven’t seen anyone from the airline or the airport,” he told Reuters at 1pm, more than three hours after the flight was lost. “Nobody has told us anything, we are just standing here hoping for the best.”

Kenyan officials did not arrive at the airport until 1:30 p.m.

James Macharia, the cabinet secretary for transport, said he heard about the crash via Twitter.

Nineteen staff from at least five U.N. and affiliated organizations died, including the World Food Program, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, the International Telecommunications Union, the U.N. Environment Program, the World Bank and the International Organisation on Migration, the IOM said.

ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES

Under international rules, responsibility for leading the crash investigation lies with Ethiopia but the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will also participate because the plane was designed and built in the United States.

Representatives of Boeing and Cincinnati-based engine-maker CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric and General Electric Co and France’s Safran SA, were expected to advise the NTSB.

Ethiopian is one of the biggest carriers on the continent by fleet size. The plane was among six of 30 Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets the rapidly expanding carrier has ordered.

The fleet will continue flying since the cause of the crash is not clear, the CEO said.

Its last major crash was in January 2010, when a flight from Beirut went down shortly after take-off, killing all 90 people onboard. The Lebanese blamed pilot error, which was disputed by the airline.

North American airlines that operate the 737 MAX 8 said they were monitoring the investigation. Southwest Airlines flies 31 MAX 8 jets while American Airlines and Air Canada each have 24 in their fleet. Southwest said it remained confident in the safety of its more than 750 Boeing jets.

(Additional reporting by Hereward Holland, Omar Mohammed and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Tiksa Negeri in Bishoftu; Tim Hepher in Paris, Jamie Freed in Singapore, Allison Lampert in Montreal and David Shephardson in Washington; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Jane Merriman)

Indonesian divers find crashed Lion Air jet’s second black box

FILE PHOTO - Wreckage recovered from Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea, lies at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/File Photo

By Cindy Silviana

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian authorities on Monday said they will immediately begin to download contents of a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) from a Lion Air jet that crashed into the sea near Jakarta more than two months ago, killing all 189 people on board.

The crash was the world’s first of a Boeing Co 737 MAX jet and the deadliest of 2018, and the recovery of the aircraft’s second black box from the Java Sea north of Jakarta on Monday may provide an account of the last actions of the doomed jet’s pilots.

“We have our own laboratory and personnel to do it,” Haryo Satmiko, deputy chief of the transportation safety committee, told Reuters.

Satmiko said it had in the past taken up to three months to download, analyze and transcribe the contents of recorders.

Contact with flight JT610 was lost 13 minutes after it took off on Oct. 29 from the capital, Jakarta, heading north to the tin-mining town of Pangkal Pinang.

A preliminary report by Indonesia’s transport safety commission focused on airline maintenance and training, as well as the response of a Boeing anti-stall system and a recently replaced sensor, but did not give a cause for the crash.

A group of relatives of victims urged the transportation safety committee to reveal “everything that was recorded” and to work independently.

Navy Lieutenant Colonel Agung Nugroho told Reuters a weak signal from the recorder was detected several days ago and it was found buried deep in soft mud on the seafloor in water about 30 meters (98 ft) deep.

“We don’t know what damage there is but it has obvious scratches on it,” Nugroho said.

Pictures supplied by an official from the transportation agency showed chipped bright orange paint on the CVR memory unit, but no major dents.

Nurcahyo Utomo, an investigator at the safety committee, told reporters it should take no more than five days to download the data, but if there was a problem the CVR would be sent to the manufacturer.

“We hope it can be done as soon as possible because all the Boeing operators are waiting,” said Utomo, adding that investigators hoped to complete the full report within a year of the crash.

With the recovery of the CVR, officials said there was no plan to continue searching for other parts of the wrecked plane, including an angle of attack sensor that was suspected to have been faulty.

The navy’s Nugroho said human remains had been found near the location of the CVR, about 50 meters from where the crashed jet’s other black box, the flight data recorder (FDR), was found three days after the crash.

Investigators brought in a navy ship last week after a 10-day, 38 billion rupiah ($2.70 million), an effort funded by Lion Air failed to find the recorder. Bureaucratic wrangling and funding problems hampered the initial search.

The L3 Technologies Inc CVR was designed to send acoustic pings for 90 days after a crash in water, according to an online brochure from the manufacturer.

That would mean that after Jan. 27, investigators could have faced a far bigger problem in finding the CVR buried along with much of the wreckage deep in mud on the sea floor..

Boeing said in a statement on Monday that it was taking “every measure” to fully support this investigation.

“As the investigation continues, Boeing is working closely with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board as a technical advisor to support Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee,” the planemaker said in a statement.

Since the crash, Lion Air has faced scrutiny over its maintenance and training standards, and relatives of victims have filed at least three lawsuits against Boeing.

(Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Fergus Jensen and Tabita Diela; Editing by Robert Birsel and Darren Schuettler)

Doomed Lion Air jet was ‘not airworthy’ on penultimate flight: investigators

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) sub-committee head for air accidents, Nurcahyo Utomo, holds a model airplane while speaking next to deputy chief of KNKT Haryo Satmiko during a news conference on its investigation into a Lion Air plane crash last month, in Jakarta, Indonesia November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Cindy Silviana and Fergus Jensen

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A Lion Air jet that crashed into the sea off Indonesia last month was not in an airworthy condition on its second-to-last flight, when pilots experienced similar problems to those on its doomed last journey, investigators said on Wednesday.

Contact with the Boeing 737 MAX jet was lost 13 minutes after it took off on Oct. 29 from the capital, Jakarta, heading north to the tin-mining town of Pangkal Pinang.

In a preliminary report, Indonesia’s transport safety committee (KNKT) focused on the airline’s maintenance practices and pilot training and a Boeing anti-stall system but did not give a cause for the crash that killed all 189 people on board.

The report unveiled fresh details of efforts by pilots to steady the jet as they reported a “flight control problem”, including the captain’s last words to air traffic control asking to be cleared to “five thou” or 5,000 feet.

Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait on Wednesday evening rejected some media reports quoting KNKT that the airline’s Boeing 737 passenger jet that crashed on Oct. 29 was not airworthy since its penultimate flight from Denpasar to Jakarta.

It had been cleared as airworthy by Lion Air engineers on that flight as well as its final flight, KNKT investigator Nurcahyo Utomo said earlier in the day.

“I think pilots can judge for themselves whether to continue,” said Lion Air Managing Director Daniel Putut, a former pilot.

Utomo, in contrast, pointed to multiple problems, including the “severe” issue of stall warnings occurring in tandem on the Bali-Jakarta flight that were enough for the KNKT to determine the flight should not have continued.

Information retrieved from the flight data recorder showed the “stick shaker” was vibrating the captain’s controls, warning of a stall throughout most of the flight. The captain was using his controls to bring the plane’s nose up, but an automated anti-stall system was pushing it down.

Pilots flying the same plane a day earlier had experienced a similar problem, en route from Denpasar, Bali to Jakarta, until they used switches to shut off the system and used manual controls to fly and stabilize the plane, KNKT said.

“The flight from Denpasar to Jakarta experienced stick shaker activation during the takeoff rotation and remained active throughout the flight,” the committee said.

“This condition is considered un-airworthy” and the flight should have been “discontinued”.

The pilots of that flight reported problems to Lion Air’s maintenance team, which checked the jet and cleared it for take-off the next morning.

Former Boeing flight control engineer Peter Lemme said stick shaker activation was “very distracting and unnerving”.

“It’s not something you ever want to have happen as a pilot,” he said.

Utomo said the agency had not determined if the anti-stall system, which was not explained to pilots in manuals, was a contributing factor.

“We still don’t know yet, if it contributed or not,” he said in response to a question. “It is too early to conclude.”

In a statement, Boeing drew attention in detail to a list of airline maintenance actions set out in the report but stopped short of blaming ground workers or pilots for the accident.

REVISED ANTI-STALL SYSTEM

The manufacturer, which has said procedures for preventing an anti-stall system activating by accident were already in place, said pilots of the penultimate flight had used that drill but noted the report did not say if pilots of the doomed flight did so.

Boeing’s statement did not make any reference to a revised anti-stall system introduced on the 737 MAX which U.S. pilots and Indonesian investigators say was missing from the operating manual.

Boeing says the procedure for dealing with a so-called runaway stabiliser, under which anti-stall systems push the nose down even when the plane is not entering a stall or losing lift, had not changed between an earlier version of the 737 and the newly delivered 737 MAX.

Pilots however say the control column behaves differently in certain conditions, which could confuse pilots who have flown the earlier model.

Indonesian regulators were urged after previous accidents to improve their oversight of maintenance and pilot training.

In an interview, Indonesia’s director general of aviation, Polana Pramesti, said the agency planned to require pilots in Indonesia to be trained on simulators for the MAX series.

Pramesti also said a new regulation was being planned to limit the risk of pilot fatigue occurring and should be issued in the “near future”.

A source at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said a number of factors were ultimately likely to be cited as causes of the crash, including pilot training and maintenance. It had still to be determined how much, if at all, the plane design would be faulted, the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The report provided new recommendations to Lion Air on safety on top of earlier recommendations about the flight manual that have already been implemented by Boeing.

Lion Air CEO Sirait said the airline would comply with KNKT’s recommendations which included ensuring pilots made the proper decision on whether to continue a flight.

Authorities have downloaded data from the flight data recorder, but are still looking for the cockpit voice recorder (CVR).

Indonesia plans to bring in a ship from Singapore able to stay in position without dropping anchor, to help with the search.

Asked what was needed from the CVR, Utomo said: “A lot. Discussions between the left and right pilots were about what? What procedures did they carry out. Were there any strange noises?”

Without it, he said there would be “a lot of guessing”.

(Reporting by Cindy Silviana and Fergus Jensen; additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, David Shepardson in Washington, Tracy Rucinski in Chicago, Eric M Johnson in Seattle and Gayatri Suroyo in Jakarta; Writing by Ed Davies and Jamie Freed; Editing by Darren Schuettler, Nick Macfie and David Evans)

Indonesia extends search for victims of jet crash

An Indonesian National Transportation Safety Commission (KNKT) official examines a turbine engine from the Lion Air flight JT610 at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 4, 2018. Picture taken November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

By Agustins Beo Da Costa and Cindy Silviana

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia authorities extended on Wednesday a search for victims of a plane crash last week, when all 189 on board a Lion Air flight were killed, and for the aircraft’s second black box, the cockpit voice recorder.

The nearly new Boeing Co. 737 MAX passenger plane slammed into the sea on Oct. 29, only minutes after takeoff from Jakarta en route to Bangka island near Sumatra.

“We have extended the operation for three more days,” Muhammad Syaugi, the head of the national search and rescue agency (Basarnas), told Reuters.

It was the second time the search has been extended.

But he said search teams from the military, police and others would stand down, leaving just his agency to press on.

“This operation has been running for 10 days and the results from combing the sea surface and the seabed are declining, therefore the resources of Basarnas should be sufficient,” Syaugi told a news conference.

Basarnas had 220 personnel, including 60 divers, as well as four ships involved in the search and were focusing on an area with a radius of 250 meters (273 yards), he said.

A police official said 186 body bags containing human remains had been retrieved and 44 victims identified after forensic examination.

Authorities have downloaded data from one of the black boxes found last week, the flight data recorder, but are still looking for the cockpit voice recorder

A “ping” has been detected from the second black box but the signal was very weak, possibly because it was encased in mud,” said Nurcahyo Utomo, an air accident official at the transportation safety committee (KNKT).

A vessel capable of sucking up mud was likely to be brought in to help, he told a news conference.

Boeing said on Wednesday it had issued a safety bulletin reminding pilots how to handle erroneous data from a sensor in the wake of the Lion Air crash.

The U.S. planemaker said investigators looking into the Lion Air crash had found that one of the “angle of attack” sensors on the aircraft had provided erroneous data.

Experts say the angle of attack is a crucial parameter that helps the aircraft’s systems understand whether its nose is too high relative to the current of air – a phenomenon that can throw the plane into an aerodynamic stall and make it fall.

KNKT said that there was a problem with the sensor on the last flight taken by the doomed plane, from the island of Bali to Jakarta, even though one sensor had been replaced in Bali.

The KNKT has interviewed crew and technicians on duty for two previous flights, while also retrieving the faulty sensor from Bali for inspection.

KNKT is planning to simulate a flight to assess the impact of sensor damage at Boeing’s engineering simulator facility in Seattle.

(Additional reporting by Tabita Diela in JAKARTA, Tim Hepher in ZHUHAI and David Shepardson in WASHINGTON; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Indonesian divers, ‘pinger locators’, hunt for doomed plane’s cockpit recorders

Rescue workers of crashed Lion Air flight JT610 carry a body bag off a boat at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

By Fathin Ungku and Yuddy Cahya

JAVA SEA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesia deployed divers on Tuesday to search for an airliner that crashed with 189 people on board, as “pinger locators” tried to zero in on its cockpit recorders and find out why an almost-new plane went down in the sea minutes after take-off.

Indonesia, one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, has a patchy safety record. With the now almost certain prospect of all on board having died, the crash is set to rank as its second-worst air disaster.

Ground staff lost contact with flight JT610 of budget airline Lion Air 13 minutes after the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft took off early on Monday from the airport in Jakarta, the capital, on its way to the tin-mining town of Pangkal Pinang.

Dozens of relatives of those on board gathered at a police hospital where body bags were brought for forensic doctors to try to identify victims, including by taking saliva swabs from family members for DNA tests.

“I keep praying for a miracle although logically, the plane has sunk in the ocean,” said Toni Priyono Adhi, whose daughter was on the flight.

“But as a parent, I want a miracle.”

A Reuters witness on a boat at the crash site saw about 60 divers scattered in inflatable boats over the slightly choppy waters entering the sea, which is about 35 meters (115 feet) deep.

Sonar vessels and an underwater drone have also been hunting for the wreckage of the fuselage, where many victims were feared trapped, officials said.

The head of a national transport safety panel, Soerjanto Tjahjono, said that underwater “pinger locators”, including equipment from Singapore, were being deployed to help find the aircraft’s black boxes.

The priority is finding the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder to help determine the cause of the disaster, safety experts said.

Soldiers drag an inflatable raft as they carry debris of the Lion Air flight JT610 airplane that crashed into the sea, as they walk at Tanjung Pakis beach in Karawang, Indonesia, October 30, 2018. Antara Foto/Ibnu Chazar via REUTERS

Soldiers drag an inflatable raft as they carry debris of the Lion Air flight JT610 airplane that crashed into the sea, as they walk at Tanjung Pakis beach in Karawang, Indonesia, October 30, 2018. Antara Foto/Ibnu Chazar via REUTERS

“The visibility is not good as it’s very overcast,” a special forces officer said.

Underwater footage released by the national search and rescue agency showed relatively poor visibility. In all, 35 vessels are helping to search.

The focus was initially an area within 5 nautical miles of where the plane lost contact, but that was expanded to 10 nautical miles on Tuesday and will be expanded to 15 on Wednesday, a search and rescue agency officer said.

But only debris, personal items, including 52 identification cards and passports, and body parts have been found off the shore of Karawang district, east of Jakarta.

Police said human remains were collected in 37 body bags after sweeps of the site, roughly 15 km (nine miles) off the coast.

Most of those on board were Indonesian but the airline has said an Italian passenger and Indian pilot were on the plane.

Relatives of passengers on the crashed Lion Air flight JT610 wait at Bhayangkara R. Said Sukanto hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Relatives of passengers on the crashed Lion Air flight JT610 wait at Bhayangkara R. Said Sukanto hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

EARLIER TECHNICAL PROBLEM?

The pilot of flight JT610 had asked to return to base shortly after it took off, at about 6.20 a.m. on Monday. Investigators are trying to determine why the pilot issued the request, which was granted.

The deputy of the national transportation safety committee told a news conference the plane had technical problems on its previous flight, from the city of Denpasar on Bali island on Sunday, including an issue over “unreliable airspeed”.

“We are also asking for information from the last pilot who flew from Denpasar to Jakarta, but we have not met the technician,” Haryo Satmiko said, referring to the technician who handled the aircraft after it landed on Sunday.

The committee also had a recording of the conversation between the pilot of JT610 before it crashed and the control tower at Jakarta, he said.

Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi told reporters at Jakarta’s dock that the investigation would result in sanctions being handed out, but he did not elaborate.

Lion had operated 11 Boeing 737 MAX 8s and a transport ministry official said inspections would be made on all of those models operating in Indonesia though they would not be grounded.

On Monday, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing Co said they were providing assistance for the investigation.

The accident is the first to be reported involving the widely sold Boeing 737 MAX, an updated, more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer’s workhorse single-aisle jet.

Two witnesses described the plane as swaying or rocking as it came down, adding that the nose hit the water first and there was a tall column of smoke afterward.

The aircraft did not make a noise when it came down, they said.

“From a long way off, it was already leaning,” said Gauk, a fisherman who uses one name.

Privately owned Lion Air, founded in 1999, said the aircraft, which had been in operation since August, was airworthy, with its pilot and co-pilot together having amassed 11,000 hours of flying time.

Indonesia’s worst air disaster was in 1997, when a Garuda Indonesia A300 crashed in the city of Medan, killing 234 people.

(Additional reporting by Cindy Silviana, Bernadette Christina Munthe, Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Fergus Jensen, Fransiska Nangoy, Gayatri Suroyo and Fanny Potkin in JAKARTA; Writing by John Chalmers and Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Doomed Indonesian plane with 189 on board had asked to return to base

Relatives of passengers of Lion Air, flight JT610, that crashed into the sea cry at Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang, Belitung island, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. Antara Foto/Hadi Sutrisno via REUTERS

By Fergus Jensen and Tommy Ardiansyah

PAKISJAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) – An Indonesian aircraft with 189 people on board crashed into the sea on Monday as it tried to circle back to the capital, Jakarta, from where it had taken off minutes earlier, and there were likely no survivors, officials said.

Lion Air flight JT610, an almost new Boeing 737 MAX 8, was en route to Pangkal Pinang, capital of the Bangka-Belitung tin mining region. Rescue officials said they had recovered some human remains from the crash site, about 15 km (9 miles) off the coast.

People watch rescue team members on a boat before they head to the Lion Air, flight JT610, sea crash location in the north coast of Karawang regency, West Java province, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

People watch rescue team members on a boat before they head to the Lion Air, flight JT610, sea crash location in the north coast of Karawang regency, West Java province, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, but its safety record is patchy. If all aboard have died, the crash will be the country’s second-worst air disaster since 1997, industry experts said.

The pilot had asked to return to base (RTB) after the plane took off from Jakarta. It lost contact with ground staff after 13 minutes.

“An RTB was requested and had been approved but we’re still trying to figure out the reason,” Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesia’s transport safety committee, told reporters, referring to the pilot’s request.

“We hope the black box is not far from the main wreckage so it can be found soon,” he said, referring to the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder.

Search and rescue agency head Muhmmad Syaugi told a news conference that no distress signal had been received from the aircraft’s emergency transmitter.

Yusuf Latief, spokesman of national search and rescue agency, said there were likely no survivors.

 

Rescue workers stand next to body bags at the port of Tanjung Priok, that are believed to be from Lion Air flight JT610, that took off from Jakarta and crashed into the sea, in Jakarta, Indonesia October 29, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. Basarnas/via REUTERS

Rescue workers stand next to body bags at the port of Tanjung Priok, that are believed to be from Lion Air flight JT610, that took off from Jakarta and crashed into the sea, in Jakarta, Indonesia October 29, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. Basarnas/via REUTERS

At least 23 government officials, four employees of state tin miner PT Timah and three employees of a Timah subsidiary, were on the plane. A Lion Air official said one Italian passenger and one Indian pilot were on board.

Edward Sirait, chief executive of Lion Air Group, told reporters the aircraft had had a technical problem on a flight from the resort island of Bali to Jakarta but it had been “resolved according to procedure”.

Sirait declined to specify the nature of the issue but said none of its other aircraft of that model had the same problem. Lion had operated 11 Boeing 737 MAX 8s and it had no plan to ground the rest of them, he said.

The accident is the first to be reported involving the widely sold Boeing 737 MAX, an updated, more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer’s workhorse single-aisle jet.

Privately owned Lion Air said the aircraft had been in operation since August, was airworthy, with its pilot and co-pilot together having accumulated 11,000 hours of flying time.

‘BE PATIENT’

The plane went down in waters about 30 meters to 35 meters (98 to 115 ft) deep.

Relatives of passengers of the Lion Air plane that crashed into the sea are seen at Depati Amir airport in Pangkal Pinang, Belitung island, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. Antara Foto/Hadi Sutrisno via REUTERS

Relatives of passengers of the Lion Air plane that crashed into the sea are seen at Depati Amir airport in Pangkal Pinang, Belitung island, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. Antara Foto/Hadi Sutrisno via REUTERS

Bambang Suryo, operational director of the search and rescue agency, said about 150 rescuers and 40 divers were on the site, using an underwater drone to search for the fuselage, where many of the victims were believed to be trapped.

“We need to find the main wreckage,” he told reporters.

Another agency official, Deden Ridwansyah, said authorities were focusing on an area about 1 nautical mile in radius based on debris found on the water and floodlights would be used to search through the night.

The flight took off in clear weather at around 6.20 a.m. and was due to have landed in Pangkal Pinang at 7.20 a.m.

Distraught relatives of those on board arrived at the airport in Jakarta and Pangkal Pinang.

“Be patient, pray the best for papa,” one woman arriving at Jakarta airport told a sobbing girl.

The woman declined to speak to reporters.

President Joko Widodo told a news conference authorities were focusing on the search and rescue, and he called for the country’s prayers and support.

Boeing was deeply saddened by the loss, it said in a statement, and was ready to provide technical assistance for the investigation.

Under international rules, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board will automatically assist with the inquiry, backed up by technical advisers from Boeing and U.S.-French engine maker CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and Safran.

Data from FlightRadar24 shows the first sign of something amiss was around two minutes into the flight, when the plane had reached 2,000 feet (610 m).

It descended more than 500 feet (152 m) and veered to the left before climbing again to 5,000 feet (1,524 m), where it stayed during most of the rest of the flight.

It began gaining speed in the final moments and reached 345 knots (397 mph) before data was lost when it was at 3,650 feet (1,113 m).

Indonesia’s worst air disaster was in 1997, when a Garuda Indonesia A300 crashed in the city of Medan, killing 214 people.

Founded in 1999, Lion Air’s only fatal accident was in 2004, when an MD-82 crashed upon landing at Solo City, killing 25 of the 163 on board, the Flight Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety Network says.

In April, the airline announced a firm order to buy 50 Boeing 737 MAX 10 narrowbody jets with a list price of $6.24 billion. It is one of the U.S. planemaker’s largest customers globally.

(Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Cindy Silviana, Gayatri Suroyo and Fransiska Nangoy, Bernadette Christina in JAKARTA, Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE and Tim Hepher in HONG KONG; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)