Indonesian Plane Hit Ocean at Hundreds of Miles per Hour

By Chris Jasurek
Chris Jasurek
Chris Jasurek
October 29, 2018 Updated: October 29, 2018

According to tracking data, an Indonesia airliner carrying 189 people crashed into the ocean at about 350 miles per hour. Everyone aboard is feared dead.

Data from the flight posted on FlightRadar24 shows Lion Air Flight JT610 going into a dive and accelerating at a rate of more than 30,000 feet per minute, or approximately 350 miles per hour (560 kilometers per hour), as it plunged towards the Pacific Ocean.

The plane dropped from 4850 feet of altitude to impact the ocean within 21 seconds.

John Cox, president of the consulting company Safety Operating Systems, told Bloomberg News that airliners generally descended at 1,500 to 2,000 feet per minute.

The speed recorded by FlightRadar, 30,976 feet per minute, was the normal cruising pace for the plane on a short trip. But on descent, it was equivalent to the pilots gunning the engines as the plane roared downward.

“This thing really comes unglued,” Cox told Bloomberg. “The numbers are barely believable.”

Remains of Lion Air flight JT610
A forensic investigator looks through the remains of Lion Air flight JT610 at the Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia on Oct. 29, 2018. (Ed Wray/Getty Images)

According to the graph, the crew seemingly succeeded in lowering the rate of descent briefly about seven seconds into the fatal dive, but three seconds later the plane was falling at an ever-accelerating rate.

Such behavior would be unusual for modern, computer-piloted aircraft, Bloomberg News reported. Many control systems, and many back-ups, would need to fail simultaneously for the plane to behave in that fashion. One possible inference would be a multi-function failure, possibly linked to electronics system.

The plane was a nearly new Boeing Co. 737 Max jet, so it is unlikely that a part failed from fatigue. This is the first accident involving a 737 Max.

Possible Warning

Yusuf Latif, a spokesman for Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, said the Lion Air flight lost contact 13 minutes after takeoff. Latif said the crew of a tugboat in Jakarta harbor had seen the plane falling.

“It has been confirmed that it has crashed,” Latif said by text message.

Flight JT610 took off from Jakarta around 6.20 a.m. and was due to have landed in the capital of the Bangka-Belitung tin mining region at 7:20 local time a.m., the FlightRadar 24 website showed.

Bloomberg reported that one of Flight JT610’s pilots had requested permission to return to the Jakarta airport shortly after takeoff, so it is possible that the crew could see that some systems were malfunctioning.

Relatives of passengers of Lion Air flight JT610

Steve Wallace, former head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s accident investigations division, told Bloomberg he was mystified by the plane’s behavior. The data didn’t match any accident he had seen, and he could not imagine exactly what had gone wrong to bring down the airliner.

“I have no most likely scenario in my head for this accident,” Wallace said.

“The flight and voice recorders will be absolutely essential.”

Lion Air plane in flight
A Lion Air Boeing 737-800 plane prepares to land. (Rosland Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

The plane’s black boxes have not been found at the time of reporting, although Indonesian officials have said that they don’t expect it to take long to find then in the shallow 25-30 meter (80-100 feet) waters into which the plane crashed. The two boxes, one housing a sound recording from the cockpit and the other logging thousands of data parameters, will give crash investigators a much better picture of what happened to the almost-new jet.


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Chris Jasurek