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737 Max design flaws linked to crash, Indonesian investigators tell families of victims

Jakarta

MECHANICAL and design issues contributed to the crash of a Lion Air 737 Max jet last October, Indonesian investigators told victims' families in a briefing on Wednesday ahead of the release of a final report.

Contributing factors to the crash of the new Boeing jet, which killed all 189 on board, included incorrect assumptions on how an anti-stall device called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) functioned and how pilots would react, slides in the presentation showed.

The briefing slides also showed a lack of documentation about how systems would behave in the crash scenario, including the activation of a "stick shaker" device that warned pilots of a dangerous loss of lift, also contributed.

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"Deficiencies" in the flight crew's communication and manual control of the aircraft contributed as well, the slides showed, as did alerts and distractions in the cockpit.

The deficiencies had been "identified during training", the slides said, without adding details.

Reliance on a single angle-of-attack sensor made the MCAS system more vulnerable to failure, while the sensor on the plane that crashed had been miscalibrated during an earlier repair, according to the slides.

The final report will be released on Friday.

A Boeing spokeswoman declined to comment on the briefing, saying: "As the report hasn't been officially released by the authorities, it is premature for us to comment on its contents." A Lion Air representative declined to comment.

The B737 Max was grounded worldwide after a second deadly crash in Ethiopia in March 2019.

US planemaker Boeing is under growing pressure to explain what it knew about 737 Max problems before the aircraft entered service, especially after a Reuters report on messages from a former test pilot describing erratic software behaviour on the 737 Max jet two years before recent crashes.

Boeing has already said that it would redesign the anti-stall system to rely on more than a single sensor and to help reduce pilot workload.

The planemaker is set to release third-quarter financial results late on Wednesday.

Contact with the Lion Air 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.

The airplane had suffered a sequence of problems in cockpit readings since Oct 26, culminating in a decision to change the angle-of-attack sensor before the penultimate flight from Denpasar to Jakarta.

During the fatal night-time flight, a "stick shaker" was vibrating the captain's controls, warning of a stall throughout most of the 13 minutes aloft, based on what investigators believe to have been erroneous data on its angle to the oncoming air.

That angle is a key flight parameter that must remain narrow enough to preserve lift and avoid an aerodynamic stall.

The airplane's anti-stall system repeatedly pushed the nose down, which is how pilots usually get air under the wings.

Boeing was widely criticised for placing emphasis on piloting and maintenance issues in its public response to an earlier report, sparking a furious dispute with Lion Air's cofounder, Rusdi Kirana.

But it has since acknowledged that MCAS and a faulty sensor played a role, and apologised for lives lost without admitting formal responsibility. REUTERS